There was never really a conversation about who would run the family business – Kelly and Morgan Walsh weren’t expecting to become hotdog stand owners in their twenties.
But then their father unexpectedly died, and Cupid’s Hot Dogs became theirs. They considered selling its two locations in Winnetka and Simi Valley in Los Angeles, California, or closing it. But it had been the family business since 1946, and they wanted to figure it out.
Despite the big jump for them, the community already knew and loved Cupid’s – they had for decades. So soon the two fell into the restaurant’s rhythm, relying on longtime employees’ expertise and neighboring restaurant owners of the Daglas drive-in, Junkyard Cafe and Beeps Diner.
That was 13 years ago, and they’ve operated the stands since. Slowly, they began to give it their own flare. Then, the pandemic hit and they knew they’d have to change things up to keep revenue flowing in. So they re-paved the parking lot at their Winnetka location and invited people to drive up in their cars.
The Flash of Insight
Morgan Walsh had an idea: What if they roller-skated the orders out? The two both loved to skate and knew it would add to the nostalgia brand of the stand. Plus, it would be fun for them and the customers.
“We’d been thinking about doing car hopping before COVID had started,” Morgan Walsh said. “And then once COVID hit, we were like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do this.’”
On went the roller skates and shortly after came a wave of attention. Morgan Walsh started filming her and her sister skating hotdogs to customer’s cars. A TikTok video racked up with million views; others hit four million and six million.
Last spring, the Los Angeles Times ran a photo feature of the sisters groovy stand and skates.
“We had people driving in from like two hours away,” Morgan Walsh said. “They were like, ‘I saw your video, and I drove right over.’”
Cupid’s sells around 2,000 hot dogs a week, bringing in about $10,000 a week, based on its hot dog prices. Their menu of decked-out hot dogs include a chili dog, reuben dog and Chicago-style dog. Prices range from $5.20 to $6.45 per dog.
Skating around Obstacles
The sisters employ about 12 people between the two locations. Most of the staff stays behind the counter while the sisters skate out the orders, though at least one has donned the skates. At first, they were all nervous they’d have to learn, the sisters said.
“We were like, don’t worry,” Morgan Walsh said.
“We just make them move out of the way,” Kelly Walsh joked.
Throughout the pandemic, the sisters have relied and worked with their community of restaurants. One coffee shop exchanged gift cards with them to gift employees. Their register recently broke and a nearby restaurant offered an extra for the day.
The skating has also strengthened Cupid’s already tight-knit community. The two also host car shows.
“People come and they hang out while we’re skating,” Morgan Walsh said. “They tell us their roller skating stories from the ‘60s ‘70s,” Kelly Walsh added.
The drive-ins attracted their customers to keep on coming throughout the duration of the pandemic, which allowed the sisters to keep their revenue consistent. Their latest challenge has been the supply chain delays – they are scared one day they won’t have any hotdogs if they get tied up in shipment. Their stock has gotten low, but that hasn’t happened far, Kelly Walsh said.
The power of social media. Businesses are proving more and more how powerful social media can be to grow your customer base. Doing something interesting at your business? Try putting it on TikTok.
Jump Right In. Kelly and Morgan learned the ropes as they went when they were running the stand for the first time. They relied on those with experience to get through. Community is everything. Like when they learned how to run the stand, the Walsh sisters found their community incredibly important through the pandemic.
This story and others on Times of E are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.