Meet the man behind the Grateful Dawgz stand

Meet the man behind the Grateful Dawgz stand

Rodney Cooper sells hot dogs, burgers and sausage just across the street from Bird Library.
Published: October 30, 2019
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Rodney Cooper and his wife Caryn are also business partners, helping each other out at their respective food stands when needed.

If you have ever walked around campus, passed Bird Library and wandered down Walnut Avenue, you might have smelled grilled sausage and cheese. The reason for this is “Grateful Dawgz” – a food stand specializing in hot dogs, grilled cheese and burgers that’s run by Rodney Cooper.

A few years ago, Cooper, 47, built a hot dog cart for him and his wife in his backyard on Euclid Avenue. They both sell hotdogs on the streets, his wife Caryn has a different spot across town. Since they only have one car, it was quite a challenge to make both carts fit on the truck bed. Cooper had to make his cart fit on the back of his wife’s — and proved his craftsmanship.

Cooper said he noticed a lack of affordable food trucks around the Syracuse University campus after he moved to Syracuse 25 years ago. Since he has started to sell hot dogs on University Hill, he has seen “all kinds of stupidity” and antics happening around campus. Not only people crossing red lights or students walking in front of cars, but also cars driving the wrong way on a one way street.

Nevertheless, Rodney has only had positive experiences with SU students and staff, who are also his main customers. He also gets business from construction workers or people who just drive by and see his cart at the side. 

Carlotta Sophie Stintzing
Rodney Cooper enjoys being around campus and interacting with students, especially on a sunny day.

Cooper is not always alone on that spot. His wife helps him out on very busy days, like gamedays. But even when he is alone and sells hot dogs all day long, he said there is not a single moment of boredom. He’s usually playing jazz or rock music, and if there are no customers at the moment, he sits down and reads a book. Right now, he’s reading a book called “The Seeker” by John Jakes, a historical fiction novel capturing the story of the USA from 1794 to 1814.

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Cooper grills his sausages and serves them fresh for every customer.

Owning a hot dog cart and selling food sometimes looks easier than it is, Cooper said. Health checks, renewal of the permit, setting up the cart, cleaning the supplies and shopping for new food are some of the tasks he’s responsible for as the Grateful Dawgz owner. Since the demand for vegetarian food is increasing, he also sells grilled cheese and plans on expanding his vegetarian options, too.

Right now, he is in the process of building a new cart that is closed, so he will be able to serve food to his customers, rain or shine. Every once in a while, Rodney gives his regulars a free lunch special, just to say thank you.

Once he finished the new cart, Rodney will be around campus all year long, selling his burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, making the cold days more enjoyable.

Every morning he wakes up, he couldn’t be happier to start the day and drive to campus to sell his food.