Make us your home page

St. Petersburg police crack down on late-night hot dog vendor


For weeks, her gleaming pushcart, with its natural casing grilled dogs, drew a line of ravenous fans long before last call.

The bartender at the Irish bar counted on the dogs for his dinner meal. Tattoo artists stopped by on their breaks. Concertgoers smuggled bites of sausage into the State Theatre.

After nearly 20 years in the pushcart profession, Joy McGhee thought she had a new niche.

The police saw it differently.

On Friday night, they shut down her business and served her a $200 fine.

Her crime?

Violating City Code Section 16-50.450: Operating a Pushcart during Prohibited Hours.

Unbeknownst to her, McGhee had become a hot dog hoodlum.

• • •

The 600 block of Central Avenue sits bleak and lonely during the day, its half-vacant storefronts the only reminders of an abandoned condominium development.

Midday, hardly anyone walks by. McGhee, 48, won't relocate. This is her block. Has been for nearly 20 years.

She gives free food to the poor, greets her neighbors by name, gets her ink done at the corner tattoo parlor. During a recent street cleanup, she donated free hot dogs.

In June, the owners of Durty Nelly's asked McGhee if she would operate her "Dawg House" cart outside the bar at night. There were no late night bite options on the block and the closest venue, a pizza shop, is four streets away.

"We thought it was a safety thing," said bar owner Stephen Smith. "You eat a hot dog, you sober up."

McGhee informed the city she was moving her pushcart up the street. The pushcart permit clearly states the city does not allow operators to do business after 9 p.m. and before 7 a.m.

But McGhee thought the sidewalk in front of the bar was private property, so she started a new shift.

During the day, she served hot dogs to hungry office workers and passing tourists from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. At night, she fed Guinness guzzlers and rock and roll mavens from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

She sold late night dogs for nearly two months.

On Friday, the line had already started to form when the police showed up at about 9:45 p.m. and told McGhee and her husband, Michael, they were breaking the law.

As she argued with police, her customers clamored to be fed.

"People were begging me, can you give me one?" she said. "They were telling me this while the police were shutting me down."

Her fans were flabbergasted.

Why weren't the police going after real criminals on a Friday summer night?

"There's a recession going on," said Brandon Pearce, owner of Foolish Pride Tattoo shop on Central Avenue. "Why are you closing a business?"

An hour later, police shut down another pushcart vendor at Central Avenue and Second Street.

• • •

There are 34 pushcart operators in St. Petersburg.

Only one business was cited for operating past the city's curfew in 2008. The two shut down Friday night are the first of 2009.

"I have received the question several times asking where the 9 p.m. limit on hot dogs originated. Looking through the file this afternoon, I am not able to provide a specific answer," Julie Weston, the city's development services director, told the St. Petersburg Times in an e-mail Monday.

City Council member Leslie Curran said she will review the matter and see if the law can be changed.

McGhee set up a "legal fund" bucket on her pushcart Monday. Passers-by were urged to call City Hall in her defense. By 3 p.m., the bucket was nearly full with dollar bills. Two mayoral candidates had stopped by to offer their help to the St. Petersburg resident.

She hopes City Hall will allow her to sell her dogs at night.

She had counted on the extra income to make it through the summer, when office workers resist walking or bring salads from home. She needs to make rent, pay the water bill, keep her lights on.

"Who am I hurting?" she said. "All I am trying to do is make a buck."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or

St. Petersburg police crack down on late-night hot dog vendor 07/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Airbag maker Takata bankruptcy filing expected in Japan, U.S.


    DETROIT — Japanese airbag maker Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of faulty air bag inflators.

  2. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  3. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  4. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  5. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.