RANGELEY, Maine — The middle of nowhere is the new hot spot for hot dogs. Two enterprising restaurateurs have opened a food stand in the middle of snow-filled Maine woods 20 miles south of the Canadian border and a few miles from the town of Rangeley.
The site may seem an odd business decision, but it is at the crossroads of three snowmobile trails. "This trail goes into Rangeley. This comes in from Eustis and Stratton. Eustis is about 45 miles that way," Greg Fletcher said, pointing to a trail heading northwest from the food cart.
Fletcher, 34, and his partner, Michael Richard, 32, who call themselves "the sausage guys," have a sign next to the cart--their only advertising other than word of mouth--proclaiming "Best Food in the Middle of No Where."
"And that's what it is," Fletcher affirmed.
A typical winter weekend morning finds the pair hitching their food cart on metal skis behind their own snowmobile to haul it more than two bumpy, snow-covered miles from Rangeley to one of the busiest snowmobile intersections in Maine. There are nearly 80,000 snowmobiles registered in Maine, as well as about 12,000 miles of trails for them crisscrossing the state.
By midday, people bundled in brightly colored snowmobile clothing that resembles spacesuits have gathered around the hot dog stand and are clamoring for food.
"These guys will do 200 miles a day. . . . That's nothing for them. They're amazing. They're just on their sleds all day," Fletcher said as he prepared a big pot of cocoa.
"These guys have driven miles, literally. And they're hungry," Richard said as he wielded metal tongs and made change with hands red from hot water and frigid air.
Richard, who owned a restaurant until last spring, said he had never ridden a snowmobile before starting the business--and he had never run a hot dog stand.
The difference between it and a restaurant is that the stand "is a lot funner and there's a lot less to worry about," he said. "There's no overhead, which is nice. There's no roof, either, so it's a little colder at times."
Fletcher said the chilly setting for their business caused problems even before they had piled sauerkraut on their first kielbasa. "When we were getting our permits, the health department asked us, 'How are you going to keep things cold? What kind of refrigeration will you have?' " he said.
" 'Ma'am, we are in the middle of the woods. Our warmest day is 10 below. I'm not worrying about how to keep things cold, but how to keep them from freezing,' " he recalled telling her.
On one recent day, Richard and Fletcher discovered their propane tank had frozen. They could still steam sausages and hot dogs but couldn't grill them. This did not appear to bother their customers.
"This is great food," one man said as he opened his visor and chomped on a sausage sandwich. "It's a great idea. They should have these stands all over the place."
Another sausage lover said that before the stand opened, "you'd have to depend on candy and stuff like that. We used to bring sandwiches, and by the time we got to the top of the mountain, they looked like they were in a blender."
The sausage guys believe that they are providing a valuable service to a growing clientele. And their view is supported by a recent study concluding that snowmobiling generates nearly $230 million a year for Maine's economy.
Just consider, Richard said, that the price of a snowmobile--a sort of motorcycle on skis--can run as high as $10,000. "When you've got $6,000 to $10,000 already invested, what's four more dollars for a quality six-inch Italian sausage?"