Main Street food cart sees first decline in eight years
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 19:04
After eight years, Bennie Dollard’s food cart on Main Street is beginning to see a decline in business, despite having many loyal customers.
Senior Joe Posch said he has been eating at the cart since his freshman year. He said the cart’s convenient hours and Dollard’s personality are the reasons why he has continued to come back year after year.
“He’s very interactive and friendly, he knows me and my roommates and he knows everyone,” Posch said. “It’s more than just going to get a sandwich.”
Junior Mike Graziano said, like Posch, the food is only part of the reason he eats at the cart. He said he enjoys the service and finds Dollard to be very personable.
“He’s a good guy, nice guy, means well and is trying to make a living,” Graziano said. “That’s why I like him.”
According to Dollard, approximately 90 percent of his customers are students, but many of his other clients include people from Wilmington and the area’s construction workers and delivery persons.
He said he acknowledges that forming a bond with his customers is what has them coming back. Although his goal is to maintain positive relationships with his regular customers, Dollard said he is surprised by their loyalty.
“It’s impressive that I have a nice customer base because I want that customer to come back every day,” Dollard said. “The customers are more like family.”
He said he thinks a big reason his cart is losing business is because of new competition on Main Street. According to Dollard, having so many restaurants on one street causes a widespread decline in profits. He said some restaurant and store owners have told him business has slowed for them as well.
Dollard said food carts are popular in other cities like Philadelphia and New York City, but Delaware is slow to adopt the dining option. He said he thinks business would improve if he moved to high-traffic location in Newark, such as outside of Trabant University Center. Also, he said some students are misinformed about the food he serves.
“A lot of people think it’s a hot dog cart,” Dollard said. “I don’t even sell hot dogs.”
Although he has advertised his business in newspapers in the past, he said verbally spreading the word around the community is the best way to attract new customers.
However, Posch said that Dollard’s food cart is not living up to its potential due to the fact that many students are unaware the cart even exists. He said in order to for Dollard to earn higher profits, he needs to reach out to the younger students.
“All the freshmen might not know about him,” Posch said. “I didn’t find out until half way through freshman year.”
Senior Jemille Vialet said he agrees informing more freshmen is crucial for the survival of Dollard’s business, and he should even consider advertising online.
“Normally people know about these places because they can find them on Campus Food,” Vialet said.
As a devoted customer, Graziano said he would like to help Dollard with advertising and he thinks other students would too. However, Dollard said he does not plan on changing his marketing strategy.
In order to compete with all of the other restaurants on Main Street, Dollard said he tries to give his customers a high volume of quality food while keeping prices low. In the last eight years, he said he only increased his prices once. Dollard makes frequent trips to Philadelphia to get his meats and attributes that to his success.
Despite declining business, he said he does not worry about his competition and stays focused on offering his customers a good product.
“I don’t have time to worry about anyone else but my customers,” Dollard said. “If businesses are taking care of their customers they don’t have time for anyone else.”