Ashley Hawkins has seen difficult times, had her life going down the wrong track, and hung around with the wrong crowd, at wrong places and times. Enough so, that she felt she couldn’t take care of her young daughter, Sophia. She asked her grandmother to take care of her, which she did.
Ashley was always close with her grandmother, and appreciated the bond that developed between her own daughter and Sophia’s great-grandmother, even as she dealt with her struggles. Ashley credits her grandmother with giving her the shove that put her on a better track.
“She just looked at me and said, ‘You know, grandma don’t have long here. I need you to get it together. I need you to get your daughter.’ When she told me that, I was just determined to do something with my life.”
Ashley also recalls her grandmother, who was named Brenda, but nicknamed ‘Brinny,’ telling her she hoped she would one day be her own boss, and be able to provide for herself and her daughter.
There’s one other thing Ashley knew and always remembered about her grandmother: She never met a hotdog she didn’t like.
As of last week, as a tribute to her late-grandmother, Ashley opened her own business, running a hotdog cart under the name Brinny’s Dogs.
“I’ve been planning it and working toward this day for about six months,” Ashley said. “I’ve always thought of it. From the time I was able to understand what running a business was, I figured it probably the simplest thing to do. I was just always intrigued to get to that point. Eventually, maybe I can get a food truck or a storefront.”
Ashley reached out to Dual Supply owner Jeff Woods to see if she could set up her business in front of his hardware store. He was happy to oblige. For now, she’s there Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to about 2 p.m. She said her hours may expand, depending how downtown foot traffic grows with the warmer weather.
Ashley said she hopes businesses, organizations, and festivals consider hiring her to bring her hotdog cart to events. But for now, she is pleased with her location and believes she has a good shot at success.
“I just knew it was gonna need to be here,” she said. “I’m from Hillsborough. Orange County is my home and I know a lot of people, so I felt I would get the support I needed. I would have the income and the revenue coming in that I needed. It was just perfect. You’ve got the courthouse right here. You got your lawyers, your fire department, you got your police department. I’m just showing love back to the community.”
So far, her sales have been pretty good, and the response has been positive, even attracting business from staff at other downtown restaurants. Ashley said she has experience in the food industry, but said she still did a lot of research on the best practices for running a hotdog cart.
“A lot of research, probably over 200 hours,” she said. “I mean, six months worth of videos. I would work a 40-hour-plus week at Texas Roadhouse as a server. I just saved and saved to get this going. I would get off of work after a 13-hour shift, go home and get my daughter ready for school the next day. Once I settled down, I would watch my videos until I fell asleep. I would be on the bed with a notebook and a pen and just doing numbers, writing notes for a good six months.”
The secret to her hotdogs, though, came from her mother, Kim, and her grandmother. “I put a beef cube in my water,” she said. “So, my dogs are cooking in beef broth. It gives you that extra flavor. I put my own twist on it. It’s a Brinny-style hotdog.”
Ashley left her other job, and is now running her hotdog business full-time. She’s even brought her mother on as an employee. Her mom said she is proud of how well the business is going and impressed with her daughter. But she urges Ashley to stay patient with her business.
“She’s always been determined and strong minded,” Kim said. “When she puts her mind to it, something is gonna happen. And I told her, you can’t look for numbers right now. People’s gotta see that you’re out here a lot.”
With so much time spent planning for and thinking about hotdogs, does Ashley wind up dreaming about them? “No, I dream about getting out,” she said. “I think about my grandmother saying she wanted me to promise her that I would become something, and make something of myself. So, hopefully, I’m making her happy and proud.”