Shell Lumber: Hot Dogs Are Life

By 8 a.m. crews are already lining up outside of Shell Lumber on the corner of U.S. 1 and 27th Avenue. Yet it's not plywood or tool parts they're after. It's hot dogs, bratwurst and mini hamburgers.

The half-block-long hardware store has been in business 84 years and remains a popular supply shop for handymen and contractors, despite the rise of big box hardware stores like Lowe's and Home Depot.

For a handful of years a small hot dog stand operated along a nearby sidewalk. It became so popular that about a year ago owner Paul Naron decided to bring it inside, said Sales Manager Jesus Guzman.

"Customers asked for it," he said, and "they got it."

There's nothing out of the ordinary about this cart, yet on a weekday afternoon the action doesn't stop. Shell's employees joke with each other and chat with customers as they pass by the stand. Some stop and grab a soda. Others order up a full lunch. Mini burgers go for $1.25, hot dogs are $2 and a bratwurst is $2.50? For more than an hour and a half Thomas Kachian barely gets a second to rest as people constantly show up with dollar bills in hand looking for a quick bite.

Shell was named one of the country's top 100 small businesses by American Express and was featured, alongside Wynwood's Panther Coffee and Coral Gables ice cream shop Whip 'n Dip, in a primetime Super Bowl ad for the credit card company.

Kachian is an artist and contractor who came to Florida by way of Racine, Wisc. After an accident on a jobsite he found himself living with his parents for more than year. On a whim, he picked up everything he owned and moved to Miami Beach. He's now married to a Nicaraguan lawyer who he calls the love of his life. Oh, he's also a trained artist and in 2011 painted an 80-foot mural titled "The Beach" along 25th Street in Wynwood.

Meanwhile, the hot dog stand is a kind of rite of passage for Shell's newer employees. The five newest hires do a half-day shift, six hours, twice a week. Kachian said it's hard work, everyone doesn't make it, but the pay is good, as are the benefits.

"You gotta suck it up sometimes," he said, and "put on a smile, sell hot dogs and say yes ma'am no ma'am."

For more follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.

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