A Summer-of-Snitches Subversion: City Helps Teen Rather Than Shut Down Unlicensed Hot Dog Stand

When he grows up and gets that food truck, though, he'll probably have a very different experience.


Hot Dogs
Brian Enright /

A teen in Minneapolis has been running a hot dog stand, partly to raise money and partly because he likes having his own business. Jaequan Faulkner, 13, started his own little pop-up venture two summers ago, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

This summer he hit a snag. Someone called the Minneapolis Health Department and complained about the kid with the unlicensed hot dog stand.

It's been that sort of summer, with snitches finding the dumbest reasons to call the cops and other authorities on other people, often kids and teens.

Faulkner's story has a happy ending, though: Rather than shutting him down, the city decided to help him go legit. They gave him the equipment that the health department demanded to operate in compliance with city code (everything from meat thermometers to cleaning equipment), and they covered the $87 required for a "special event permit" to operate legally.

It's nice that the city helped him, but there's something a little unsettlingly self-promotional about its approach. The only reason this story has a happy ending is because of the kindness of some cogs in the city's bureaucracy. This is a story about a teen's entrepreneurial spirit, but it's also a story of the noblesse oblige of those with the power to decide whether or not Faulkner can sell hot dogs.

Faulkner is an adorable, photogenic kid with a dream. He wants his own food truck someday. He's a great story. He's also an "innocent," somebody easy to root for. That's why stories like this go viral. That's why stories about officials cracking down on lemonade stands go viral. That's why lemonade manufacturer Country Time was widely praised for a summer program to pay the costs of permits so that kids can legally run stands.

Does Minneapolis treat everybody who needs a bunch of permits and equipment to do their jobs with such a charitable response? Look at all the business licenses Minneapolis demands. If your kid is selling candy bars to raise money for a band, the band director is supposed to register for a youth fundraising permit. And each kid selling candy is supposed to carry around an identification card with the name of the organization, the permit's registration number and expiration date, and the telephone number for the appropriate office in the city government, in case any of those snitching grown-ups want to make sure you're legitimate.

If you've got an arcade (or I guess a bar/arcade, these days), each machine requires its own license. Heck, you have to get permission to put out a bench on a public sidewalk. It's not all terrible, though. As of 2016, Minneapolis no longer requires special business permits to operate skating rinks, to run bowling alleys, to deliver milk, or to have a jukebox.

It's genuinely great that Minneapolis was kind to Faulkner and didn't succumb to bureaucracy's worst tendencies. But ultimately, these officials want us to praise them for not being as bad as their own ordinances allow them to be. What happens to kids caught up in harsh government regs also happens to adults across the country every single day—and for them, it's not about earning some extra spending money. If Faulkner gets that food truck when he grows up, he's going to discover that many cities have deliberately hostile business environments because other businesses in town (restaurants) don't want the competition.

And if he values his freedom, he won't do something really crazy, like wrap his hot dogs in bacon.