Winter Park’s Hot Dog Guy full of surprises
Winter Park CO Colorado
Don’t let him fool you – that guy pedaling the burrito bike through the snow in sub-zero temperatures – serendipity is his guide.
An orphan from the Sonoran Desert, ‘That Guy’ was, for a time, the only member of the Mexican National Ski Team.
Setting aside concern that people wouldn’t buy sashimi from a Mexican, he went on to open Winter Park’s first sushi bar – THE Sushi Bar.
Then, last summer, he opened a hotdog stand near Hideaway Park, just as a way to fill time.
Unexpectedly, it garnered an almost religious following. So popular were its wild boar dogs, blue cheese dogs and smoked carrot dogs, ‘That Guy’ came to be know as ‘The Hot Dog Guy,’ and he sold out daily.
His funky, hand-painted logo – a spin on the Colorado state flag with a helmeted space dog eclipsing the sun – became an instant hit, the kind marketing gurus dream about. Appearing on T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and stickers around town, that catchy dog is now the theme of DeLeon’s newest enterprise – the one that brings him back to his roots – The Cosmic Dog Mexican Grill.
So, don’t let him fool you, Fernan DeLeon knows a thing or two about beating the odds.
He came to the United States after high school, following an opportunity to attend community college in Texas. With his magnetic personality, he found himself traveling around the country with new friends, picking up work in construction and restaurants.
Promise of big fortunes took him, for a time, to Florida. DeLeon remembers those first years as a time of living paycheck to paycheck, feeling empty.
Then, he was introduced to windsurfing, a sport that immediately grabbed him and captivated him for the next decade.
Following the wind, he landed on Cape Cod, where he lived to play.
During his first off-season, a restaurant owner offered him a position working at his restaurant in Killington, Vt. With the job came housing and a ski pass.
DeLeon had never skied before. But, by the end of his first day on skis, he was skiing moguls with 1992 Olympic gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht, and he was hooked.
Making up for lost time, he turned to training almost nonstop. With his sights set on an Olympic future, he looked for a place where he could ski year-round.
Mt. Hood, Ore., offered both skiing year-round and windsurfing at the Columbia River Gorge in the summer.
It was in Oregon that DeLeon first learned of Winter Park. He met a guy who told him that if he really liked to ski bumps, he had to ski Mary Jane.
The two headed east one April and the new friend introduced DeLeon to some of Winter Park’s icons, like Jeff Williams, who became one of DeLeon’s first friends in town.
“The first run I ever did on Mary Jane was Outhouse,” he recalls. “It was Spring Splash. There were 12 of us, and we ran it from top to bottom without stopping.” At the bottom of the run, DeLeon hit a jump and landed a helicopter, something he’d been practicing over the summer. After that, DeLeon was ‘in’ with Winter Park’s best skiers.
He was soon spending his summers in Mt. Hood and his winters in Winter Park.
As he improved to the point of competing internationally, he looked for a way to become part of the official circuit. Seeing a skier at Mt. Hood one summer wearing a Denmark National Ski Team jacket, he asked how he should go about joining a ski team. He called the International Ski Federation, which gave him a number for the Mexican National Ski Federation. (To his surprise, one actually existed. An Austrian-born man with a Mexican mother had represented Mexico in years past, but he had since retired). The number connected DeLeon to a lawyer’s office – which doubled as the Mexican ski federation headquarters – and, giving them a few references, he was signed up as the only member of Mexico’s National Ski Team.
Under the tutelage of 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Nelson Carmichael, DeLeon trained for the World Cup. In 1996-97 he participated in the World Cup tour. Traveling alone with no resources and no support, he found friends in the Spanish National Ski Team, who adopted him after seeing him walking around alone, struggling with his cumbersome bundle of skis.
“I finished dead last, but I completed the tour that year,” he said.
During qualifiers for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, however, he destroyed his knee.
He recovered, but – nearing 30 by then – gravity was starting to catch up with DeLeon. A younger generation of skiers had begun to rise to the top with a new style of tricks that put the helicopter to shame.
“I tried to keep up with them,” DeLeon said. And, for a while he did.
But, during a freestyle event in 1999, he broke his femur on a bad landing, ending his competitive ski career.
Winter Park captured him and kept him. Here, DeLeon has become an icon among icons.
“As a guy who has benefited most of his life from the help of others, I’ve always wanted to give back,” DeLeon said. “I said I would do it someday when I had a lot of money, but my bank account never got any bigger. So, I decided it was time to do something now.”
The Cosmic Dog Mexican Grill, which opened it doors in Park Plaza shopping center a few weeks ago fulfills several lifelong dreams for DeLeon.
“I always wanted to own a Mexican restaurant,” he said. “But, I never wanted to compete in business with my friends.” Everywhere he lived, there was always a Mexican restaurant, and the owners, not surprisingly, were always his friends.
But, the Cosmic Dog won’t be a typical Mexican restaurant, DeLeon said.
Building on the growing popularity of restaurant chains like Chipolte, the Cosmic Dog will serve healthy, fresh burritos with a twist. Blue cheese, one of DeLeon’s favorite foods, will find its way into more than one burrito, he hinted.
In addition to fresh burritos and a tacos, the burrito bike, with its studded snow tires, will deliver affordable breakfast and coffee to people on the street, at bus stops and to businesses on request, every day, starting at 7 a.m., regardless of the temperature, until the burritos are gone.
The Hot Dog Guy will soon be known as ‘That Crazy Burrito Guy.’
On his first day pedaling his 175-pound burrito bike around town in early December, with temperatures dipping below zero, DeLeon had a moment of doubt.
“I am known to do some crazy stuff,” he noted. But, after an hour had gone by and he hadn’t sold a single burrito, “I was wondering if I hadn’t gone too crazy,” he said.
Things picked up, however, and he sold 40 burritos that morning. Not too shabby for a first day in business
Fulfilling his promise to give back, DeLeon, along with business partner Louis Rinn, has dedicated 1 percent of his profits for the planet. Another 5 percent of his gross sales will go to the local charities such as the animal shelter. He plans to hold fund raisers, to donate his time and business whenever possible and to sell his artwork for charity. Using ‘Green’ paper products and offering a recycle program, the Comsic Dog plans to do its part for the environment as well.
“This is my platform to give,” he said. “It’s going to be our priority.”
Keeping the locals happy is another priority. With prices ranging from $3.75 for a breakfast burrito to $7 for a dinner burrito, the food is priced for the budget-minded, DeLeon said, and a generous punch card plan will reward regulars with free burritos.
The restaurant will serve lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday; and from 7 am. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
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