Stafford Springs resident David Shovlin began his business with the frame of a hot dog cart and a dream. Working for several years on his business, CT Chainsaw Sculptures, Shovlin was ready to take on a new challenge. Shovlin is the owner of Dino Bites, a dinosaur-themed hot dog cart business that travels to local events and parties bringing fun times and food to guests. Shovlin has worked since April 2018 to create the cart. While Shovlin only had the fossil of a cart to begin with, hard work and dedication has led to what Dino Bites has become today.
“It kind of started when I was driving by this dilapidated cart. This thing was just trashed. I drove by it literally every day going ‘somebody should fix that up, it’d be a fun project,’” Shovlin shared.
After admiring the cart from afar during his daily commute, Shovlin took the leap and decided to inquire about purchasing it. “There was one day where I had ten minutes to kill. I was early for an appointment and the owner just happened to be outside. So I drove up and asked him how much he wanted for it. He said, ‘give me $100, it’s yours.’ I happened to have $100 in my pocket exactly,” Shovlin said.
During the drive home, Shovlin realize that the hot dog cart wasn’t quite what he was expecting. “He hitched it up to his truck for me and on the way home, this thing started falling apart on the road. The lights started falling off of it. I knew it was a pile of junk when I bought it. We got it home and there was nothing salvageable on it. Everything had to be thrown away from top to bottom,” Shovlin said.
Shovlin continued, “I literally thought it was going to be simple: put a new top on it, grab a cooler and a grill, and you’re in the hot dog business. It was nothing like that.”
With his wife, Donna, by his side, Shovlin took on the necessary steps to jumpstart what would become their future hot dog cart business. “My wife was the one who took care of all of the paperwork that was involved with the health department. There’s a lot of things to consider. I didn’t know that you had to have a commercial freezer on board, which led to ‘how do I power that?’ I’m thankful for YouTube,” Shovlin shared.
Shovlin continued, “My wife did all of the research with the health department and they were super helpful. I proceeded to build out the entire cart.”
Dinosaurs weren’t always on Shovlin’s mind. It was the middle of the night when Shovlin dreamed up a Jurassic theme.
“I’ve been sculpting for several years. But I woke up one night around two in the morning and thought, ‘the cart should have a theme.’ I don’t know where this came from, but I thought something catchy would be dinosaurs. I had a whole half of the cart to play with for the marketing of it. After it dawned on me that dinosaurs would be the way to go, I then started sculpting the actual dinosaurs myself,” Shovlin said.
From then on, it was history. Or, pre-historic.
The dinosaurs found on the cart are hand sculpted by Shovlin using foam and an epoxy resin. The first dinosaur to inhabit the cart was a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a cage. Shovlin decided to add more, with one extra detail: the ability to talk.
“I wanted another dinosaur that would interact with the public. We added that our second year in business, a triceratops named Tops,” Shovlin said.
Tops speaks through a wireless microphone that is hidden behind the scenes. Shovlin uses the microphone to speak to guests as Tops.
The cart also includes a sound system and a synthesizer that creates sound effects such as crickets and ominous noises. Tops’s mouth is controlled with brake cables, similar to those found on a bicycle.
“We do dinosaur-themed parties and it’s a great way to attract people and get their attention to come to the cart,” Shovlin said.
Tops was created after Shovlin found a dinosaur skeleton Halloween decoration at Home Depot. “I didn’t want to have a skeleton that would scare people and I wanted to make it more interactive,” Shovlin shared.
With Tops up and running at the cart, Shovlin said that customers have enjoyed interacting with him. “It’s really funny. They don’t expect the thing to move. When they come close to look at it, the thing moves. When it starts talking, the kids start freaking out. They go ballistic,” Shovlin said.
Shovlin said that the reactions of kids who stop by Dino Bites makes the four months of work Tops and other décor at the cart took worth it. “They think it’s real. This one kid, he was talking with it for quite some time and he screams at the top of his lungs, ‘this is not a hot dog cart, it’s an adventure!’ It’s funny what these kids will come up with and what they say. It made four months of work worth it,” Shovlin shared.
Dino Bites has seen success at small town events and private parties. Shovlin said he attributes this in part to the hot dogs served on the cart. Dino Bites serves hot dogs and kielbasa from Martin Rosol’s Meats, a business from New Britain.
“We did our research. We asked everyone what their favorite hot dogs were and they were just great to deal with. They had the best hot dog,” Shovlin said.
As the business grows, Shovlin said he feels that he and Donna are prepared for anything.
“The first night we launched was at this huge fireworks festival. We were not prepared. We were prepared food-wise, but it was pitch black and the cart has a ton of lighting in it. The lights just attracted everyone. We went from 0 to 50 people in line. Donna was writing up tickets so fast, I didn’t know what to do. I looked down and I don’t think I looked up for three hours until we were done. But we did it,” Shovlin shared.
Dino Bites is hoping to also branch out to include breakfast items such as pancakes and coffee in the future. After dreaming up the cart, Shovlin said he is having fun watching the business grow.
“Before we got into this business, Donna and I watched every episode of ‘Restaurant Impossible’ and ‘Kitchen Nightmares.’ I think everybody wants to try this. Everyone wants to own a restaurant if you like to cook,” Shovlin said.
Shovlin continued, “I enjoy having fun with the kids and watching their reactions with Tops. I definitely enjoy the cooking. I really have fun cooking and I enjoy that much more than I thought I would.”
To learn more about Dino Bites, visit facebook.com/DinoBitesCT Check out Dino Bites at their next event for a roaring good time.