Managing a Kid-Created Cart and Prepping for Back-to-School with the Owners of Lincoln Dogs

With back-to-school creeping in quickly (where has the summer gone?), it’s a great time for us adults to stay nimble and keep learning. We couldn’t resist sharing the story of one of our incredible vendors, Lincoln Dogs, which is co-run by husband and wife team Andrea and Josh Burnell, and their son, 14-year old Lincoln Burnell. In truth though, Lincoln’s the one really running the show. They own one of those rare family businesses helmed by a kid and run on pure joy. Here’s how they make it work:

Check out the interview below to learn more about this Chicago-based family business that puts The Bear to shame! (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.) 

Roaming Hunger: Whaddup Lincoln Dogs crew? Thank you for taking the time out of your busy summer to chat with us! Tell us about your business for the folks reading. 

Andrea Burnell: You bet! We are a vintage-style hotdog cart and catering company that started in our son Lincoln’s brain at a really young age. At the age of six he talked about wanting to feed the masses in a real way.

Josh Burnell: It wasn’t until a third grade project he had to do about Chicago that he discovered a passion for the Chicago-style hotdog, and he learned that they have to be Vienna beef

RH: That’s crazy! Then what happened? 

Lincoln Burnell: I learned that Vienna Beef has a Hot Dog University! My parents and I all signed up to go together and learn the art of the cart! Now we’re open for business with a 13-week permit for the spring and summer. After Labor Day, it becomes a full-on catering business—that’s when Roaming Hunger really helps!

RH: Aw shucks, that’s great to hear! Lincoln, you’re definitely one of the youngest food cart owners around, and maybe the most ambitious we’ve talked to. What’s it like to run a business while also just trying to be a kid and have fun? 

LB: Well, I’m fourteen now, and my mom has worked in the hospitality business for the majority of my life. My current goal is that by the age of sixteen, I want to be running it by myself! Incrementally of course. I’m learning more and more how to be a one man band.

RH: Andrea and Josh, what’s it like to run a business while raising children, or even better, raising ‘em and working with ‘em? 

AB: As a parent, the most crucial thing for me is empowering Lincoln. It’s his dream. As a mom I want to help him as much as I possibly can. At the same time, he’s still a kid and it’s important to have him still be a kid. He always wanted to work, but I find that we are both fulfilled when he’s doing kid stuff like going to the gym, taking a walk, getting Starbucks with his friends, going to open state, and such. Instilling work-life balance is everything to us.

RH: Since Lincoln is so involved and loves doing it, do you recommend that folks involve their kids if they’re a family-run food business? 

JB: My point of view is that, if the kid has any interest, then you involve them! It really teaches them purpose, customer service, how to handle money, and how to treat others. He has a friend who comes with him sometimes and handles soft-drink service. He really loves it too. Serving people just brings them joy! Lincoln completely takes control when we are setting up the cart in every way.

RH: So as we are nearing the end of summer, what does the transition look like to fall for your business when school starts up again? It can’t be easy to keep it up during the school week? 

LB: Our permit ends on Labor Day, so we pivot to catering rather than being in a park district. We are on call! During the week, my mom takes care of everything. On the weekend, I am serving and dressing our delicious hot dogs!

RH: Time for us to get to Chicago and get a taste! Lincoln, do you want to stay in the food cart biz, or is there an expansion in your future to trucks or brick and mortars? 

LB: I have no clue what I want to do, other than majoring in finance in accounting.

RH: You are like no other 14-year old we’ve met! What does a successful catering event look like to you all? 

AB: At our first catering event, the sky opened up and it was pouring rain like crazy! We still served lunch on time—it was a corporate lunch at a law office. Our next event was at a school, so that’s some range! A successful catering job looks well-planned and well executed. We don’t want to expect our client to have to lift a finger—we are a casual and easy-going opportunity for anyone hiring us. That means no stress on you. That’s what we call Chicago style!

JB: Don’t forget our merch! We have the best logo ever.

RH: Alright, you’ve convinced us, we’re hoppin’ on a plane! Thank you again for sharing your story with us, and Lincoln, have a great school year.