It doesn’t get any more hometown than Juanita and Bridgette Sharkey. These sisters are Houston-born and raised, HISD graduates (Pershing Middle School and Lamar High School) and Texas Southern University alumnae. They are so Houston their parents met and married at TSU.
So, it makes sense that when they decided to open a business, they’d do so right here in H-Town. The business? The Original Hot Dog Factory Houston. The grand opening? Last year, Sept. 4, 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic. Yet, this dynamic sister duo has been dealing with out-the-door lines ever since, and are preparing for the one-year anniversary of their brick-and-mortar location (920 Studemont St., Suite 300, 77007).
The Defender caught up with the pair between lunch and dinner rushes, to find out more about these Space City sisters.
DEFENDER: Who caught the entrepreneur bug first?
JUANITA SHARKEY: We started at a really young age. Our dad always drove entrepreneurship into us. So, it’s not like who started first or if it was a race or anything. It was just always drilled into us from a very young age.
DEFENDER: Why the restaurant business, and why hot dogs?
JUANITA: I had some franchise experience. I own several Colbert Ball Tax franchises before we dived into the hot dog business. At some point, Bridgette and I wanted to invest in something together. And we stumbled upon the Hot Dog Factory. We started doing our research back in 2018 and realized there was a market for hot dogs that we didn’t know was there. People that have moved to Texas were looking for a good Chicago dog, a good, authentic Detroit Coney reminding them of home. So, we reached out to the Original Hot Dog Factory and went through their application process and did a homework. And we jumped in. We were originally scheduled to open in early 2020, but COVID happened. So, we took that time to do more research and some remodeling of our location. Then we stepped out on faith and opened September of 2020.
DEFENDER: What was the thought behind opening in the midst of the pandemic?
JUANITA: Faith. COVID wasn’t part of our plan. Granted. But we couldn’t allow COVID to instill fear in us because we kept coming up with a date, and that date kept getting pushed back. So, I had a talk with God. It was like, “Okay, I gave you this dream. Now it’s time for you to trust me.” And the date came to me and we went with it, and we’ve been rocking and rolling ever since.
DEFENDER: Did you two have any other business ideas y’all were toying with before deciding on an Original Hot Dog Factory franchise?
JUANITA: We were playing with all kinds of ideas in our head. Our grandfather, he grew up Jack Yates High School in Third Ward, born and raised. He always taught us never stop learning, never stop exploring opportunities. He was like, “The moment you stop learning, you’ve lost.” So, we’re always open to opportunities, but we knew to learn. We knew to educate ourselves into what we were diving into before we dive into it. With the Hot Dog Factory, they were just starting franchising. We were one of the original franchise owners. So, everything was very hands-on. We got to actually be from the roots with the company and grow to where they are now. it’s been a very life-changing experience, a learning experience. A lot of learning. But it was something that we knew we wouldn’t get if we went through a franchise like Smoothie King, because that was something that we were looking into. That’s big corporate now, whereas I can call Dennis McKinley’s personal cell phones right now. He’s the CEO of our company, and I may not get that with some of the other larger franchises. In our figuring out which way we want it to go, that was really something they weighed really heavy for us.
DEFENDER: Speak on the journey to entrepreneurship.
BRIDGETTE SHARKEY: Growing up, talking to people, networking, seeing how they make their money, seeing how they started their business, asking questions and taking direction because, it’s not something that was inherited. We had a salary job with the state and bartended on the side, literally Thursdays through Sundays. And that was very hard, but we did that with a goal, “Hey, let’s save money to start a business that we really want to get into and not have to pull out a big loan to do it.” This took sacrifice. We didn’t buy new clothes. We didn’t get our hair done.
JUANITA: We packed our lunches. We ate leftovers.
BRIDGETTE: And you really had to humble yourself because, we live in a society where everybody wants to appear rich. Especially on social media, you never see the struggle. You see the bottom and the top. There’s no in-between.
DEFENDER: What are the challenges and advantages of being in business with family?
JUANITA: The challenge is in that we’re best friends. We’re sisters. We’re only 16 months apart. So, we mirror each other in a lot of ways. We’re like ying and yang. The good news is we know each other like, “Okay, Bridgette’s just hungry.” She knows me like, “Juanita’s just tired.” In a partnership with others, they might not understand those small, little things. And on the complicated part it’s like you can’t fuss at her too much because she’s your sister. The good is way more than the bad. I don’t really think there’s anything bad about being in a partnership with my sister, probably just that I can’t fuss at her as much as I would probably fuss at someone else.
BRIDGETTE: Though we’re 16 months apart, I’m still the baby sister. I can say that the challenge is her trying to split those roles because even with us being 16 months apart, she’s used to taking that maternal role with me, especially if I slack off. She’s like, “You know what, you need to be doing this. This needs to be turned in on time.” And I have to click out of that baby sister role while I’m used to big sister handling everything. So, I would say that that’s the challenge when you’re siblings and especially with the youngest and the oldest. The oldest for life have always taken responsibility for everything, and they’re used to being in the lead. It’s not the other way around, especially when you’re truly the baby of the family, the baby sister. That’s definitely a challenge. Of course, we’re still siblings, so it’s not the same as starting a business with your friend where you’re like, you can’t take the maternal role with your friend. It’s a different dynamic when it comes to that. But the advantage is I would say trust. We hear a lot of nightmare stories about people becoming business partners and things going sour with that. Our parents raised us to be really close. No matter how much fighting, as far as arguing, we don’t physically fight. Everyone gets into arguments, but it’s just us. I need her and she needs me. The world that we live in now, I can’t imagine really doing all this without her.
DEFENDER: Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
JUANITA: Have a plan. Be your biggest cheerleader. Don’t be disappointed when friends don’t support you.
BRIDGETTE: I would say, like (Juanita) said, have a plan. And the plan is, after opening, how to keep people interested in your business. And even if the numbers do slow down, you have to have faith and have a plan on, “Let me go to the next step of marketing” and things like that because you have some businesses that started off like that. Like McDonald’s started off small at one point. Other franchises, Chick-fil-A. You have to have a plan, don’t give up and trust that one day your business is going to be the biggest thing going. But you have to stay consistent and stay open. Some businesses lose faith and they’re not there. And if people see you’re not there, you know, you have to just keep trying. And trust the process because every business is not going to come out the door (instantly successful). I think people have this idea like, “This is a fantastic idea. I have an Instagram following. Everyone is going a support me.” And then you open your doors and the grand opening is okay. And then after that you have the challenge of being consistent, like keeping people excited about your business.
DEFENDER: Favorite menu item at your place.
JUANITA: Oh, Jamaican Jerk.
BRIDGETE: I would say, Jamaican Jerk. I love the wings.
JUANITA: We have wings. We have the best wings in Houston. We have hamburgers, milkshakes, fried Oreos, fried Twinkies, chicken sandwiches. But Jamaican Jerk is both our favorite hot dog.
Instagram: The Original Hot Dog Factory TX.
Facebook: The Original Hot Dog Factory Houston.
If Interested in Franchising: Contact Juanita@theoriginalhotdogfactory.com