“You want a beer… you want two?” asked a very inebriated Bloomsburg University student as he walked up, carrying a case of Natural Light beer, to the Em’s Pink Wieners cart stationed in front of the Bloomsburg Diner.
Em laughed and respectfully declined. The young man got in line with his friends and waited for his turn to get a hot dog with his favorite toppings.
Emily Zenzel, or better known as Em from Em’s Pink Wieners, set up shop in Aug 2010 and has since been profiting from her loyal, intoxicated, student customers. The pink umbrella, soft and glowing light and warm heating lamp attract her customers after a long night of fun.
As customers sway in line laughter and incoherent speech is almost all that can be heard on the corner. Well, them along with the screaming drunk man sitting on a bench across the street.
Em graduated from Bloomsburg University in 2004 with a degree in marketing. At the time the only restaurant really open was Sal’s, a late-night pizza joint no longer in business. Sal’s always had long lines due to it being the only place available for drunk students to get their calorie cravings satisfied on Main Street.
After graduation Em moved to Fort Lauderdale, where a food cart could be found everywhere she turned. Seeing the opportunity, she tried to open up her hot dog stand down there. However, her location would not allow it.
Eventually, Em moved back to Bloomsburg and opened Em’s Pink Wieners. Em said, since then the business has taken off, with almost every semester being better than the last. Depending on the night, she will usually sell a couple hundred hot dogs.
Em said she’s always nervous when her best customers graduate and move from Bloomsburg. She’s never certain the incoming freshmen will take up the tradition of coming to get hot dogs after a night of drinking. But since she opened, customers always line up for her two dollar dogs.
Her customers are loyal and always willing to share their exuberant feelings towards Em. “It’s unreal,” stated Dylan Lutz, Bloomsburg University sophomore. He excitedly sang the cart’s praises as we waited for his turn to order.
Em also offers souvenirs with her hot dogs. One of the more popular ones being her shot glasses, which are a different color every semester. The souvenirs started with beer koozies. Once everyone already had one, though, Em had to come up with another idea. That’s what started the color changing shot glasses. They have become a collectable for Em’s regulars.
Lutz’s friend Ryan Crum, also a sophomore at Bloom, said, “Hot dogs are my favorited food, and when you can get two dogs and a shot glass for five dollars you say ‘here you go’.”
Though her business is successful now, it was hard to get started. Em faced many unhappy local restaurant owners when she first set up shop. Interestingly enough, most of the people upset over her appearance on Main Street weren’t even open late enough for her to be competition.
Em had made sure to go to the town first for approval of her hot dog cart and at the time there were no ordinances. She was given the green light until unrest in the restaurant community began.
Now, Em and the other restaurants get along fine. Though the occasional competing food cart does pop up. Naps, a late night pizza place, opened up a pizza cart at one point. It has since returned to a brick and mortar store only. This year, a barbeque cart started up down the street from Em, but she’s not worried. Em claims that new carts tend not to last that long.
During the day Em works for her family’s construction business out in Berwick. The flexible hours make it easier for her to run Pink Wieners Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Balancing Pink Wieners with her day life isn’t hard, she claims. However, the cart has taken over her weekends.
She never misses a night. Through cold and rain, Em’s loyal customers can find her out in front of the Bloomsburg diner from 10 at night until three in the morning.
The Pink Wiener stand is a Bloomsburg landmark for the students. The familiar pink umbrella and new light draw the intoxicated customers towards tasty hot food. The products, all proudly displaying her logo, find their way into dorms and student apartments.
The fun, whimsical name is one every Bloomsburg residents is familiar with. But its origin isn’t all that fancy.
Em decided on the Pink Wiener brand while sitting around a pool with her friends, who still eagerly help out with the cart. After drinking a couple of beers and throwing different ideas around, Em’s Pink Wieners was the name that stuck.
In a dream world Em would love to see Pink Wieners become a franchise. Where students could find Em’s hot dogs in every PA college town. This grand idea is better said than done, though. But Em does wish to eventually make the hot dog cart her only job.
She’s been thinking of branching into other foods to bring in more business. But it would be difficult with how busy she is during her hours and the limitations of the cart. Still, she has been tossing some ideas around in her head.
Pink Wieners customers love and respect the cart, making sure to keep it all civil by handling the rowdier drunks before they can get to the front of the line. “This is the best food ever!” Jeff Adami, Bloomsburg University sophomore, exclaimed. The raucous students standing around him all agreed.
One of the concerns people have for Em is that she may be in a dangerous situation dealing with drunk students. But she says, “That’s the best part. Everyone is so nice and entertaining.” It never gets boring at Bloomsburg’s hot dog stand.