Couple puts on the dog to make ends meet

For John and Ann Kirkham of Clinton, life is a moveable feast on a bun. “There’s nothing like a plain, old-fashioned, standard good dog,” John Kirkham said.

John and Ann Kirkham stand in front of their “Snack Shack” hot dog stand along Cameron Road in Freeland.

For John and Ann Kirkham of Clinton, life is a moveable feast on a bun.

“There’s nothing like a plain, old-fashioned, standard good dog,” John Kirkham said.

“And we’re mobile,” said Ann Kirkham, warming her hands against the chill last week with some coins from the cash drawer above the little space heater inside the “Snack Shack.”

For the past five months, the entrepreneurial Kirkhams have been selling hot dogs and other food from their 8-by-10-foot business venture on wheels.

John Kirkham modestly rates their hot dogs “as somewhere between great and fantastic.”

The menu ranges from the $3.50 Super Dog (“BBQ, pickle, mustard, relish and fried onions”) and Polish Dog (“3 different saurkrauts”) on through the Fair Dog, Chili Dog, Cheese Dog and Plain Old Good Dog.

They also have nachos, bagels with cream cheese, instant soup cups, fresh-popped corn, candy, chips, peanuts and a variety of beverages.

The Kirkhams started about five months ago, setting up on the sidelines of youth soccer games. Since then, they’ve been at other locations, most recently for a month next to ProBuild, formerly Lumbermens, along Highway 525 near Ken’s Korner shopping center.

For a week or so, the Kirkhams have been at their current location at Highway 525 and Cameron Road, tucked behind a building with a wall painted like the flag of Scotland, some U-haul trucks and trailers and a tiny espresso stand.

They picked that location because it’s just down Cameron Road from the entrance to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and its

150 employees, who they figure must build up powerful appetites around lunchtime.

“We’ve had a couple of Nichols people, and a couple of guys from the fire station across the highway,” Ann Kirkham said. “Hopefully, the word will start getting around.”

Both Kirkhams grew up on South Whidbey, he at Maxwelton Beach, she at Double Bluff Beach. They’ve been married for 47 years.

John Kirkham’s grandfather was Oak Harbor’s blacksmith dating back to 1909.

With his father and two other family members, he spent 32 years in the food vending business centered in the South Seattle area.

At one point, the family owned and operated 68 restaurants and diners and 25 concessions.

“We were a major operation,” he said.

When he sold out his share, he promised as part of the agreement to stay out of the restaurant business, Kirkham said. That restriction ended only recently, he added.

Meanwhile, both he and his wife have become partially disabled.

Ann Kirkham, 63, injured her shoulder and had to quit the job she had for 12 years at a South End food market, where she was dairy manager and clerk.

“I couldn’t pick up the boxes anymore,” she said. For the past year and a half she has been pressing a claim with the state Department of Labor and Industries, a claim she said finally appears to be making some progress.

Her husband, 66, underwent an operation on his leg, and came out of it worse than when he went in, he said.

“I can only walk about 75 feet at a time,” he said. “I can only stand on it for a short time.”

“We’re a couple of old fogies,” his wife said with a chuckle. “We can only do this kind of work.”

The Kirkhams bought the hot dog stand from their son and daughter-in-law, who they said had great success with it at soccer games on the other side of the water.

“It was built by students at Stanwood High School,” he said. “Then they found out how much work it was going to be.”

The Kirkham’s borrowed the name “Snack Shack” from the original, an eight-stool operation across from the old Langley High School that they recalled from their school days.

“We didn’t think they’d mind if we used the name,” Ann Kirkham said. “We thought a lot of people around here would remember it.”

They’re generally open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but will extend to 4 p.m. if the business materializes. They said they’ve been averaging about 10 to 12 customers a day so far.

“But we’re just getting started,” Ann Kirkham said.

John Kirkham said they would probably be back at South End youth soccer games when action resumes in a month or two. Meanwhile, the couple has been in contact with Little League and area farmers markets, and has booked an appearance at a model airplane event at Ault Field.

“That’s about as far north as

I want to go,” John Kirkham said.

He said they have a wind-dancing balloon on order, which he hopes will attract attention to the red-and-white striped stand. His dream is for a mini version of a mall food court to be created, where a number of diverse food-vending operations would be grouped together on the same site.

“Everybody would get busier,” he predicted.

Meanwhile, he said the Snack Shack is available for booking for private parties and events by calling 579-2785.

“We’re just trying to pay our mortgage AND put some food on the table,” he added. “If we can do some volume, we’ll stay in it.”

Do they like hot dogs?

“Until business gets better, we have to,” John Kirkham said with a smile.

“It’s not that bad,” chided his wife.

“If the island people support us, we’ll be here,” John Kirkham said. “If not, this will be just another idea gone by the wayside.”

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