Hot Dogs, Kielbasa, Sausage and Ice Cream at Big Lenny's in Rutland, Vermont Coca Cola Products Served at Big Lenny's in Rutland, Vermont
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About Big Lenny

“Mangia! Mangia! (Eat! Eat!), Lenny!”  That’s what I grew up hearing from my beautiful little 4 foot 8 grandmother, Nonie, the matriarch of our Italian family and the light of my life. My mother, sister and I lived upstairs in the big old 3 story family house in Waterbury, Connecticut, and my mother worked nights, so I spent a lot of time with Nonie and my grandfather, Papa, and most of that time involved food. And I mean a lot of food.

little lenny football.jpgTimes were simpler then. Papa worked at the local spoon shop in Meriden, and Nonie worked from dawn to dusk cleaning,  preparing meals, making bread, working the huge garden during summer months and putting up all her bounty.  There was tomato paste, sauce, swiss chard, escarole, green beans and lima and fava beans which she’d dry for putting into her winter pasta fagioli, not to mention her homemade sausage that she’d dry and pack in olive oil for use in the winter to go along with Papa’s homemade wine that was also made in the fall when the moon was right.  The old Italians in my life watched the moon for just about everything.  Even though Mom had to work a lot, she still found plenty of time to instill in me a work ethic and a pride in my work that has held true to this day.  And Mom was no stranger to the kitchen herself.  She could crank out all kinds of Italian pastries ~ biscotti, anisette and pignoli cookies, Italian rum cakes filled with custard. It was from her that I developed my creativity in cooking.

Dad at back door.jpgMy father had a neighborhood market, R & J Market, right across the street from my elementary school.  So, everyday at lunchbreak (kids that lived close to the school would walk home for lunch), I would go to our market and sell penny candy and Italian ice (a nickel a scoop) to the kids to eat on their way home. When the lunch crowd cleared, Dad and I’d go into the back room and fix our lunch.  Dad had an old hotplate, and many times we’d make hotdogs with our own chile and sweet onion sauce and relish. These were the days that began to mold my love for the hotdog business. I learned from a pro the art of waiting on customers and the importance of customer service in a small business. You always knew your customers and their familes by name, something about their jobs and what had been going on in their lives.  Many times you knew members of  3 or 4 generations in a family, the grandmother, her daughter or son and their kids.  And there was always a kind word for the customer.

cart1.jpgSo, between all I learned about food from being around Nonie for my whole young life and the experience and joy of working with my father in a food market, it was inevitable that I would end up in the food business.  And I did.  Throughout some 30 odd years, I worked in many restaurants following my passion until 1988, when I’d been in Vermont for nearly a decade, I met Reggie Groeneveld who would become my very dear friend.  He was actually the spirit behind the purchase of our first hotdog cart which he bought in Boston from a soft pretzel vendor.  We started out to try and sell soft pretzels and dogs, but the pretzels never caught on so we switched gears to selling just dogs with homemade toppings.  This was February ’88 in Rutland, Vermont.  So excited were we to have our new cart that we decided to open up immediately, not figuring on the 30 mile-an-hour winds and frequent blizzard conditions.  Needless to say, we closed asap and re-opened in May.  Better.

CART&BOAT.jpgThrough the years, the hotdog business has been a lot of fun starting with that small pushcart in ’88, and each year adding on something or closing another part of the cart in.  It went from Reggie’s and my original pushcart where we were standing on the side of the road to that pushcart being mounted on a trailer to adding a roof and sides and finally to closing it in with doors, windows and flip-up awnings.  This extended my season pretty nicely.  So, all was going along relatively smoothly until one Sunday in the summer of 2001 while coming home from working a function, I was rear-ended and the trailer flipped over causing a hurricane of wood, toppings, dogs, boombox, spoons, tongs, containers, sodas, potato chips ~ you name it ~ it was out there!  Fortunately for me, living in a small Vermont town, all my neighbors came to the rescue.  A farmer down the road came with his tractor and pulled the cart upright, word traveled fast and people came out of the woodwork to help.  Thanks to some local firemen, Ernie, Mike and Dell, the cart got doctored, and I was back in business in 3 days.  To me, that’s the blessing of living in a small rural town.

Around about September 2003, there was a huge controversy over whether or not to close the pull-off where I’d been slinging dogs for almost 15 years because of some issues that had arisen over farmers selling produce on either side of me.  It all got complicated enough to where one of the selectmen suggested that the pull-off be closed which would’ve put an end to my business.  So early one morning, my buddy Johnny who was an attorney suggested that I start a petition as soon as possible to Save Big Lenny by not closing the pull-off which I did, and within 2 days I collected over 1,450 signatures.  A local radio personality supported me as well as folks writing Save Big Lenny articles for the Rutland Herald.  People were sending letters to the selectboard, kids were making signs and t-shirts and even a song in support of me was composed to the tune of Tobacco Road.  Well, after all the smoke settled 5 days later, the selectboard, in an emergency meeting, reversed their decision.  It sure showed me that people coming together to support a common cause, in this case Big Lenny, can indeed make a huge difference.  I consider myself a wealthy man for all the loyal friends and supporters I have.

p1010397.jpgA few years later, after 15 years in the planning of making sketches and lists for my dreamcart, I stepped up to the plate and put her together.  We’re still at that same pull-off, and in the Spring of 2008 we celebrated our 20th anniversary.