Her Campus talked to Jesse Konig, one of the brilliant minds behind our favorite hotdog food truck, Swizzler. He was so excited to share the story behind his company’s success and tell us how it has developed since its first days as a class project for an entrepreneurship course at Wake.
HC (Her Campus): Most of us know that you, Jack Zimmerman, and Ben Johnson started Swizzler in an entrepreneurship class. What’s the story behind that?
JK (Jesse Konig): We had the idea before we took the class, but we didn’t really get a chance to try it until we took the entrepreneurship class our spring semester of junior year. We set up a tent with some grills right outside of Tribble to sell the hotdogs. We’re not supposed to sell food on campus, so someone from Aramark came over and was like, “Who told you that you can be here?”
HC: Yikes! What happened?
JK: We put them in touch with our professor. They ended up turning the other cheek for two more days to let us finish for the three day span of the class. At the end of the three days, we went to Last Resort to try it out. It was crazy successful. We ended up breaking the class record for the seven year history of [the course].
HC: That’s so awesome! Is that what made you guys continue?
JK: Our first real start to Swizzler was our plan to raise money to go to the World Cup after graduation. Plus, we were procrastinating on finding internships and planning our futures. After we did the project, we had a ton of friends a few weeks asking us when they could have the hotdogs again. That’s when we all kind of realized that Swizzler had more potential than just [as a means of] airfare.
HC: Nice! How did you end up in D.C.?
JK: During our senior year, we all were on the same page thinking that if we can make this work, this is what we’re going to do. We all, more or less, switched our majors to hotdogs. We took classes in the entrepreneurship department for credit to work on Swizzler, applied for grants through the school, worked on building websites and getting video footage, and some other good things. By our spring semester, we were really gung-ho – like we’re going to do this after graduation. We thought a food truck would be the best way to get started because it requires a lower investment. D.C. has a great regulatory environment, and it has the biggest Wake Forest alumni population, so it was easy to spread the word to office buildings and [other places]. At the end of the day, we thought it’d be a lot of fun to live there.
HC: If the food truck didn’t work out, what were you going to do after college?
JK: I don’t know. I was kind of all over the place. Wake, being a liberal arts school, was great because I got to take all these classes before I got into the business classes. I was a finance major for about a semester, and I was doing it and thought there was something really wrong with this. I just didn’t love it. I graduated with [a degree in] English and Entrepreneurship, but I don’t know. If I didn’t do this, I probably would’ve tried to do a grant to teach or do research somewhere. With Swizzler, I enjoy the business aspects, but I like being able to define a bottom line that’s more valuable to me than just making a profit.
HC: What were the first hotdogs like?
JK: We were selling Ball Park Franks, and the craziest thing we did was a bacon and cheddar cheese dog. Jack had the idea to spiral cut the hotdogs, so we’ve been doing that since day one. We had our Swizzler sauce back then, but we called it Monte Carlo sauce. It’s a little hot, but we’re anti-ketchup. We don’t even offer it.
HC: That’s so funny. I didn’t even notice that you guys didn’t have ketchup, but I saw that you used Dioli’s bread for the buns.
JK: Yeah, so a big part of what we’re doing is, rather than imposing ourselves on the community, we try to be a part of it. We know people love Dioli’s bread. We loved Dioli’s when we were here, and we needed fresh bread. It was kind of like a match made in heaven for us. We started putting our heads together to figure out what can do to make this a brand, and make it something in the food industry that we believe in. That kind of led us into learning more about grass-fed beef and the beef industry. Fries have been a huge hit for us. They take a lot of work. We hand cut potatoes, soak them in water over night, fry them once, and then fry them again. It’s a lot harder than frozen fries dropped in a fryer, but we think it’s worth it. If we can’t make our stuff in house, we try to get our products from local places.
HC: I know you had interns last summer. Will you be looking for interns for next summer?
JK: Yeah! We’re going to have opportunities for internships going into next summer, and some in the spring, too.
Me: How do people apply for those?
JK: We are going to post something on Handshake, and we’ll post to our social media accounts. Maybe we’ll put it on people’s listservs.
Email [email protected] for more info!