Have you ever sat in your car on the corner of Market and High Streets, wondering how long the landmark hotdog cart has been there?
I recently sat down with Tim Dever, the owner of Timothy’s Restaurant of West Chester, and he shared the history of the hotdog cart.
Tim grew up in Media, Pa, spending his high school years at Malvern Prep. Upon graduating, he chose to stay local and moseyed on down the street to West Chester University, majoring in communications and minoring in business. At the time, Tim thought, “I don’t know what I want to do, but no matter what you do, you have to communicate.” During his sophomore year, Tim moved off campus and soon realized the extra expenses that come with living on your own. Tim’s father agreed to continue paying tuition, but Tim was now responsible for room and board…and his wallet was looking pretty slim.
Tapping into his entrepreneurial mind, Tim decided to invest in a used hotdog cart. Growing up, Tim would work with his father in Philadelphia during the summer months, a stockbroker by trade, and they would always enjoy a hotdog for lunch from the street carts. In 1982, with a $1,300 loan from his father, Tim bought his first cart and stationed it on the corner of High and Market Street.
The cart was an instant success. Tim remembers, “I couldn’t believe the money I was making!” A few months passed, when a West Chester police officer stopped by the cart and informed Tim that this would be his last day. The borough council had decided to site a law from the 1800’s that banned peddling in West Chester. Apparently, the hotdog counter at Woolworths (now Iron Hill) was losing money since the arrival of Tim’s hotdog cart. Since Tim was new on the block and a young college kid to boot, Woolworth’s decided they could bully him off the corner.
“I had the rest of afternoon to figure out my options and I still had to pay my father back the money he loaned me. As I was packing up the cart, a man approached me and introduced himself as Tony Polito, a local barber. What he said next changed the course of my life,” Tim recalled with a smile. Mr. Polito instructed Tim to attend the next borough council meeting to fight the peddling law; assuring Tim that he would stand behind him. Tim signed up for the meeting and did the best he could to prepare. Once the council opened up the meeting to new business, Tim began to plead his case. However, before he could get through his opening remarks, Tony stood up and bellowed, “I think this law has no relevance and Tim should be able to sell hotdogs!” Before Tim realized what was going on, Mr. Polito called a vote that immediately passed in favor of Tim.
“I recently went to Mr. Polito’s barber shop for a haircut,” Tim said, “and told Tony that he changed my life. He just smiled at me and continued to cut my hair. It is amazing how people can inspire others without even knowing.”
You can still find Tony at his Barber Shop, located at 1501 Wilmington Pike, West Chester. He is pictured here in green.
During the summer of 1982, Tim dove full-force into his hotdog cart business. When school was back in session, he realized hiring his first employee was going to be a necessity. Tim approached his college roommate, Mark Gosik, with the idea. Mark was immediately on board. Tim and Mark began rearranging their class schedules to coincide with the demands of the hotdog cart. Business was booming. After graduating in 1984, Tim and Mark bought a fleet of hotdog carts and stored them in a warehouse in South Philly. “We would get to the warehouse at 4am, roll the carts near the University of Pennsylvania campus and sell until our feet went numb, usually around 9pm. Wake up and do it all over again the next day.”
A few years passed and the fleet grew so large that Tim and Mark decided to bring Scott Vassill or “Wally”, as everyone calls him, into the fold. Wally took over the founding cart in West Chester so Tim and Mark could focus on the Philly carts. Wally worked for about two years before buying the cart outright from Tim.
To this day, Wally and Tim are still good friends and Wally is still happy selling hotdogs from his cart on the corner of Market and High Streets which is now affectionately known as Wally’s Wiener World.
So happy, in fact, that when Tim opened his West Chester restaurant, he offered Wally a buy-in, but Wally turned him down. Tim explained, “He didn’t want to leave his cart. He is loyal to West Chester and his customers. He absolutely loves this town.”
After years of waking up at the crack of dawn, standing for hours in all weather conditions and getting home just in time to turn around and do it all over again, Tim needed a change. “It was time to move indoors. I made a call to his friend, Bill Daley, and asked if he knew of any restaurants for sale.” In 1989, Bill contacted Tim with an opportunity in Upper Darby. Turtle Crossing was a small, Irish Pub that had just come on the market. Tim purchased the bar and opened his first Timothy’s Restaurant. Next came openings in Springfield, Wilmington, Newark, and Fells Point, Md. After Tim’s Maryland restaurant was up and running, he set his sights on returning to his hometown. “When I went to school at WCU, The Rat and The Courtyard were the only two options if you wanted to go out. It has been an incredible experience to return to my roots and open my restaurant on the hallowed and historic grounds of The Courtyard.”
Timothy’s of West Chester is a traditional sports bar with a distinct homey feel. Instead of going out to a restaurant, you feel like you are heading over to your friend’s house to watch the game. “It’s all about the regulars,” Tim stated, “We have the ‘Norms’ and ‘Cliffs’ from Cheers and want to keep them coming back happy.”
Tim’s next step? Plans are set to open a Timothy’s Restaurant in Lionville, where the Downingtown Theatre used to be located, sometime in 2013.
Enjoy Prime Rib Wednesdays, Team Trivia and Live Music! You can also take advantage of Timothy’s coupons by clicking here.