WESLEY CHAPEL — In a 24-foot-long truck called Americanwiener, Ben Laffey lives his dream: making hot dogs.
Laffey, 39, co-owns the food truck with his wife, Amy, and has earned the distinguished title of "wiener creation genius."
His penchant for using toppings to turn grilled dogs into gourmet meals was preceded by a decade in a corporate job. The journey started while he studied at the California School of Culinary Arts.
"I was doing odd jobs," Laffey said, like delivering car parts — until the electric company for which his wife worked in California offered him a temporary position. What should have been a summer job turned into a permanent gig.
"They offered me a wage I couldn't refuse," he said. "The next thing I knew, I had been in corporate America for 10 years."
That's when he and his wife had a realization, he said: "The money's good, but we're not really happy."
Then the electric company downsized.
"We took a severance package, with the dream of getting into the food truck industry," Laffey said.
They used the money to move from Los Angeles to Pasco County, where Laffey was raised.
On a Sunday in 2013, six weeks after their move, the couple attended a seminar in Tampa on how to start a food truck. There they learned of a local food truck owner who planned to sell his truck and his concept.
It was called Americanwiener.
Two days later, Laffey bought it.
"We're a restaurant on wheels," he said.
To maintain the business takes work, he said.
"You may only see me for two to three hours at a festival," Laffey said.
But it takes two hours to prep the truck, up to an hour to commute, a half hour to open for business, and the workday is followed by cleanup.
But, he said, it's worth it.
"It's a good family food, a good street food," Laffey said of his fare. "A guy who's got a beer in one hand can easily hold a hot dog."
Americanwiener's hot dogs vary, he said. While he creates unique dogs for special events, there are a handful of staples that never leave the menu.
They include the Wheeler, which is topped with "cheese, chili and more cheese," Laffey said. "It's all beef, chili finely ground, and we add a little bit of cinnamon and a little bit of cocoa" — Cincinnati style.
The New York is another staple, covered in sauerkraut, grilled onions and spicy mustard.
"The award-winning hot dog from the truck is the Asian," Laffey said — cloaked with nori seaweed, pickled ginger, Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, grilled onions, teriyaki sauce and furikake seasonings, inspired by Asian cuisine.
"A hot dog is really cool," Laffey said. "It's a good platform food. You have the meat and the bread, but there are so many different ways you can dress a hot dog to make it gourmet."
On the side he sells fries, which he hand-cuts and fries twice so they are extra crispy.
Laffey said he knows why the customers like what he sells.
"It's comfort food."
For more information about Americanwiener, and for a schedule of events at which Americanwiener hot dogs will be available, visit americanwienertruck.com.