Faces |A new competition in town

John Sherels brings a new taste to Ball State weekend nights.

ohn Sherels has a simple response for people who tell him he's not the real Hot Dog Man.

"You're right," he said.

"That's what I tell them. 'You're right and have a nice night.' (Mark) Carter's been here for years. He's a great guy, but it's the Leo in me that makes me want to compete."

The Hot Dog Man, Mark Carter, who operates a stand at the corner of Dill Street and University Avenue has been a much beloved brand name in the Village for seven years, selling his almost world famous dogs to hungry students leaving the bars. But down the street, Sherels is providing new competition.

Based out of Fishers, Sherels drives to Muncie every weekend, trying to build a loyal fan base around his dogs. From his cart at the corner of Martin and University emanate the scents of boiling sausages and simmering chili. He sets up shop at midnight and stays until 4 a.m. Customers slowly trickle in, often one at a time.

"Are you with the regular hot dog man or are you a new hot dog man," asks sophomore Joe Snider.

"I'm a new kind of guy," Sherels responds.

Sherels has actually been serving up foil wrapped delicacies since he was a little boy.

"My older brothers got me into it," he said. "My first time doing this, was when I was 12 years old, in Cleveland. I worked at the old Cleveland stadium, carrying a big tray of hot dogs."

In college, he worked part time as a valet and bouncer, as well as playing defensive tackle on the Cleveland State football team, before dropping out.

"The coolest thing about leaving college was that it taught me real quick that the things I knew best were how to park cars and sell hot dogs," he said.

Eventually, Sherels went back to school and in 1993 received his degree in marketing and accounting from Myers University. He ran a computer store and worked in the vending machine business for several years, before settling down as a used car salesman in Fishers, where he still works during the week.

He got back into selling hot dogs after running into an old friend who owned several carts. Before coming to Muncie, Sherels worked in Bloomington serving IU students. But after school let out last spring, he decided he wanted something a little closer to home.

"With the college campus, I figured I'd do the same thing here," he said. "My friend knew about Carter doing well and it looked like a nice place to do business."

He met with Carter before setting up shop and tried a few of his dogs.

"Mark sells a good dog," he said. "He's doing a good job. I've been in places where if you introduce yourself to the competition, they look at you and tell you to get out of here. Carter was really nice to me. He said OK and good luck."

But Carter's fans have met Sherels' arrival with some hostility.

"He's the 'fot' dog man, the fake hot dog man," said Ball State alum Troy Ware who was standing in line for Carter.

"Carter's dog is the only dog,," added sophomore Nick Floyd. "And damn the other dogs

Carter himself said he doesn't mind the competition, and even claims that business has been up in the weeks since Sherels' arrival.

"It doesn't bother me. It's free enterprise," he said. "But these folks (students) have been buying dogs from me for years. It's a little flattering to hear so much support for the Hot Dog Man."

A long line emanates from Carter's stand, full of people waiting for dressed up Italian sausages, chili-cheese dogs and bratwursts.

So far most of Sherels' business has come from freshmen, who were unfamiliar with Carter's store on Martin (which closed in June), or people unwilling to wait in the long lines at Carter's stand.

"Competing with Carter has been the greatest challenge," he said. "And staying motivated to come back every week. There's some weeks you do it and you know you're going to lose. But it's a lot of fun; you get to interact with so many different people every night. It keeps me young, reminds me of the days I was in college."

A few people have voiced their support.

"Hot dogs are hot dogs is the way I look at it," said freshman Kris Anastopoulos. "And this guy (Sherels) has got a pretty good hot dog. And he's a good conversationalist. When you're out at 2 a.m., he's a good guy to talk to."

Sherels does have a friendly demeanor and likes to joke around with the people who come by.

"I like the guy, but he thinks he can beat me at basketball," said freshman basketball player Tom Howland.

"Well, anytime you want to lose, I'll be here," Sherels yelled back.

Most people are still unsure what to make of him, though.

"I have mixed feelings," said Snider, who was buying a chili-cheese dog from Sherels. "There's a certain amount of trust we put in Carter. But if John is making some good hot dogs then I'm sure we can come up with a catchy name like John the Hot Dog Man."

Sherels laughs about such statements. He doesn't identify himself with Carter, though he sees their mission as one and the same.

"What it boils down to is that Ball State students are happy," he said. "They're out drinking and we're trying to sober them up a little bit."


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