Farewell to The Hot Dog Man

I just received word that Mark Carter of Muncie, Indiana — known far and wide as The Hot Dog Man — has died at age 58 after a brief illness.

The Hot Dog Man (Muncie Star Press)

Mark became something of a local and regional legend — “Carter’s (nearly) World Famous Hot Dogs” — after he opened his first hot dog stand in 1994. He spent many an evening serving up his delicacies from his classic cart, which was often strategically positioned at The Village at Ball State University in order to “capture the student market,” as he once told me.

He also spent many days in downtown Muncie near the courthouse, and lines around the block were common. And when I flew model airplanes in competition in Muncie, he worked many of those contests, and a two-Polish lunch was a must.

Later he expanded to a second cart, and a couple of brick-and-mortar locations, including a stint in Muncie Mall. Eventually, though, what he called “the weiner empire” contracted to his original cart.

The menu was simple: hot dogs, Polish, brats, chili dogs, chips, drinks. And people just couldn’t get enough. As soon as Mark pulled up in his beat-up old Chevy, with cart in tow, the lines formed. It was a real phenomenon that went on for years.

Why did something so basic — so fundamental — work so well?

It was because of The Hot Dog Man himself.

Mark defined the word “affable.” I don’t think he ever met a stranger, and he was everyone’s friend. He was kind of a character, yet he was also good to our sons from the time they were little. And when Dubuque discontinued the Polish sausage he served for many years, he sold me his last case — at cost — so I could ease through what he called “Polish withdrawal.”

So why write about him on a baseball site?

Mark was a huge Reds fan. He always had a portable radio with him so he could pick up WLW and listen to the games. We would razz each other about the latest “issues” with the Giants and Reds as he prepared my order(s).

A good baseball fan who serves a mean Polish and is kind to all? You had to love a guy like that. He sold a line of T-shirts (“WeinerWear”) with his logo on them, and people sent him photos from faraway places to prove that, yes, he was (nearly) world-famous.

If there’s a Hot Dog Heaven, I’m sure Mark is there now, tongs in hand, serving up a line of hungry customers.

Farewell, Hot Dog Man. You really ARE (nearly) world-famous.