When most people think of gourmet or haute food, hot dogs usually aren’t the first things that come to mind. However, trained chef and Army veteran Nathan Stepek, and wife Rachel, started Handlebar Nate’s Food Cart on a snowy day in April 2018 and they are changing the way locals around southeastern Kentucky view hot dogs and lunch.
Nathan has a passion for food and knows a thing or two about it’s preparation. A combat disabled veteran who served in the US Army in Iraq for three years, he earned his culinary arts degree at the young age of 19, and competed in US Army Culinary Arts competitions on a national level in which he was awarded multiple awards including two gold medals and a silver.
” We first tried Handlebar Nate’s during NIBROC this year . . . very impressed with
the hotdog sauces and toppings!!! I would definitely eat there again!! Yum!!!”
Heather M. Barrineau, Comment from Facebook post
Being an Army veteran with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), it was hard for him to get back into the workforce after being honorably discharged. He was fired from a factory job due to sleep issues, nightmares and things of that nature.
“It’s hard to come in and do a real professional job when you are not sleeping for long periods of time,” he said.
Nathan didn’t let that bad experience stop him. He, along with his wife, decided it was time to make their dream become a reality.
Self-described as an All-American who has Italian and French Creole influences, Nathan uses his professional mobile kitchen to bring next-level flavor to premium hot dogs and sausages, using one-of-a-kind gourmet sauces that he creates himself. He stresses that the sauces are not something taken from the internet or that anyone else has created. One signature sauce in particular was created to put on prime rib. The sauce is made from mayonnaise and white wine, along with some other ingredients. He recommends putting it on Handlebar Nate’s all beef dogs or Chicago style hot dogs for a unique flavor.
He describes his green chili sauce as being “a sweet experience followed by a curiously spicy effect that lingers on the palette,” and states that only high quality, flash- frozen, all-beef products with no fillers or preservatives and fresh produce are used in his recipes.
He points to a source of pride — a health inspection for Handlebar Nate’s that reads 100 percent.
Nathan and Rachel aren’t just thinking of their future – they are also thinking of the future of other disabled veterans. He will soon be starting a non-profit organization called the Green Weenie, which will be a business opportunity branching off of Handlebar Nate’s and is an opportunity only for disabled Veterans facing some of the same battles every day that he does.
It’s an idea that he hopes will be successful in keeping some disabled Veterans in the workforce.
“A lot of veterans don’t want to collect a check, they want to work and I am one of those. I want to work,” said Nathan.
He explains his desire goes beyond a paycheck.
Through the Green Weenie, the disabled veteran would be provided with a cart and have access to all Nathan’s recipes and inventory system. He said it would be an easy way for a disabled veteran to go out and make their own money.
“It’s the kind of thing that a disabled veteran can do. It’s hard to do regular work eight hours a day. It’s hard when you have days that you can’t get up or do the things that you need to do,” he said.
The highly flexible self-employment type work would help disabled veterans with barriers to working regular jobs find strength in meaningful and gainful employment. “With a cart like that, if they have some bad days and haven’t slept for a few days and don’t show up for work, they don’t get fired.” Nathan continued, “It’s like their own business without the risks that are involved with starting their own business.”
Nathan and his wife are the ones taking a huge risk, so the other disabled veterans won’t have to.
He is trying to provide something that he thinks is missing for veterans. He found out the hard way when he was starting his own business that there are no government grants available for disabled veterans like he thought, and the government won’t actually give disabled veteran’s any money to start a business.
Nathan said the Green Weenie can also be a way for him and other veterans to check on each other.
“Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. It’s a way for us to keep track on each other, if they haven’t sold in a while, we wouldn’t harass them, we would ask them if they are ok,” he said.
Nathan and Rachel have three children. “It is our dream to use our talents in a way that benefits our family and allows us to spend more time together.”
“We love it because we are able to work together… We are a great team,” said Rachel. “We can both work and support our family, and our supporters and customers know they are helping a disabled combat veteran.”
With Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays coming up, Handlebar Nate’s would also like to see some catering opportunities, such as office Christmas or Thanksgiving parties.
Nathan says he prepares turkeys in a large rotisserie and says “It’s some of the juiciest turkey you have ever had in your life.”
For more information on the Green Weenie or Handlebar Nate and the mobile cart locations, check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HandlebarNates. He may also be reached at 606-344-4058 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.