Ken Baumgarten Has the Best Wiener in State College
As the parties of Happy Valley come to a close and last call echoes throughout every bar, the most logical next step for any intoxicated being is to cure the terrible case of the drunk munchies any way possible.
You know him as the dude with hot dog cart in the parking lot behind the Lion’s Den. His name is Ken Baumgarten (@KensBestWurst) and he has been running his cart since May 2011, feeding the bright minds of Penn State one hot dog at a time.
Logistically located in the parking lot behind the Lion’s Den and adjacent to several other bars, one cozy little hot dog cart stands as the hidden gem of late night food stops. He began cooking hot dogs after searching for a recession proof business that allowed his days to be open for other activities. Ken’s daughter, an alumna of Penn State, opened his eyes to the huge market of catering to the inebriated.
“Drunk people need food,” Baumgarten said. “If you’re going to drink, you’ve got to eat.”
Every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 p.m. to around 3 a.m., Ken is outside boiling and grilling his hot dogs, even in the heart of winter. You can load up your dog with toppings like sauerkraut, sauteed peppers and onions, salsa, jalapenos, relish, chopped raw onions, and the most common toppings: ketchup and mustard. He offers chips and non-alcoholic drinks like Gatorade, soda, and water and even cooks up Italian sausage for customers with a big appetite. His best-selling deal, though, is the three hot dogs for $5.
Now, entering his third year as the Hot Dog Guy, Ken has practically seen it all.
“I have a lot of funny stories, some that aren’t fit to repeat,” Baumgarten said. “You see a little bit of everything out here.”
But the most vivid memory that he recalls comes from a night in the summer of 2012 when Boombox Guy organized about 40 people in the parking lot to break out into the electric slide. So many people were involved that the State College police surrounded the parking lot, thinking that a riot was about to set off.
One of Ken’s favorite parts of his job, aside from the cash, is the fun he has interacting with the regulars.
“At the end of my first full year, I had a lot of my regulars introduce me to their parents when they came to visit,” Baumgarten said. “I’ve had the chance to meet some really terrific folks here.”
And his customers couldn’t be more grateful. After hearing that one patron had a cut on her leg, Ken went to his car and grabbed a Band-Aid for her. Several students will come up and ask for a photo with him.
One customer who ordered during this interview said: “This guy is the best. When you’re not here, I get severely disappointed, man.”
Aside from manning the hot dog cart, Ken enjoys reading, fishing, computers, and spending time with his granddaughter.
He’s a simple man making an honest dollar in Happy Valley with one bit of advice for the students of Penn State:
“Make the most of the time that you have here, but also be careful while you’re doing stuff. And I would very much like to say thank you to all of my regular customers. I appreciate them greatly and it’s always a pleasure to serve them.”