On a cold, quiet Wednesday morning at the Starbucks in Kennedy Commons, Nasir al-Huttam walks in and apologizes for being three minutes late. He tries offering to buy me a muffin to make up for it.
Nasir al-Huttam — who many UTSC students know as ‘the hotdog guy’ — owns Nasir’s Gourmet Hot Dog, a food stand outside of the Student Centre.
Unlike other restaurants at the Student Centre, al-Huttam’s stand is located outdoors; he says that hotdogs are a street food and that they do not taste good indoors.
“So your shop is really well liked among the student body,” I start.
Al-Huttam sets his coffee on the table and pulls down the hood of his black fleece sweater. He humbly expresses his thanks and is quick to praise UTSC students for being polite and loyal customers.
Al-Huttam explains that before opening his hotdog stand at UTSC in 2005, he used to work for someone else at York University. “I fall in love with the students,” he says. “That makes me motivated to open my own [stand].”
When al-Huttam was still thinking about opening his hotdog business, he approached UTSC students and asked them if they liked his concept. According to him, the students’ positive responses to his idea inspired him to start serving at the campus.
“Nothing started easily,” says al-Huttam. “The process… took about six to eight months [for UTSC] to approve it… Working outside with different kind of weather is also hard.”
Al-Huttam adds that, even though his hotdog stand is a small business, “it’s not an easy business. There’s no easy business. Everything you have to work hard [for].”
“I almost gave up. But thank God I didn’t give up.”
Al-Huttam’s eyes light up as he talks about his customers, whom he credits for motivating him to continue. “Even though [they have] different background, different religion, they all have this quality of being respectful and being polite. I like that, we have this common thing. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, they will respect you.”
Some students, according to al-Huttam, have approached him to work with him. He says that students — who have already graduated and opened their own businesses — created the menu signs that are still up on the hot dog stand to this day. Other students have also approached him about an app that they are developing.
“As a business owner, I like students who try to open their own business, who try to be their own boss,” he says. “I always encourage [students] to be their own boss. I always motivate them.”
“The trick about being your own boss is if you fail one time, it doesn’t mean that you’re gonna fail all the time.”
Al-Huttam says that asking others for help is never a wrong thing to do, and that it will all pay off in the end. “Maybe in the future when you’re established, you’re gonna start helping other people also.”
Al-Huttam has a wife and five children. His wife helps tend the stand sometimes, but she cannot tolerate the cold in the winter. As he explains this, a huge grin stretches across his face.
“But you know, that problem will be solved soon!” he says. Al-Huttam is in the midst of renovating his new stand to make it more weather-friendly for him and his wife. He excitedly talks about his plans to build a platform in his shop so he does not have to stand on the cold concrete. He also wants to cover up his stand to make it warmer inside.
True to his entrepreneurial spirit, al-Huttam wants to open more food shops. He’s thought about shawarma — he says that, thanks to his Arabian heritage, he knows how to make shawarma and other Middle Eastern food.