KINGSPORT — Christina Larkin’s kind of wonder dog dons mustard, ketchup and sometimes coleslaw rather than a cape and mask — but that doesn’t mean she wants to settle for anything less than super.
“When you go to restaurants, you know when they have given up on their effort and quality,” Larkins said. “I want to replace that.”
Larkins is the owner and operator of the blue and red comic-themed food truck that sets in the Big Lots parking lot on Sherwood Drive next to Brain Freeze.
Larkins, 44, offers all-beef, spiral cut hot dogs that allow an array of toppings offered at the food truck to settle a bit more into the hot dog that barely fits in a bun.
“At first I wanted to have a panini press and offer something kind of different but stay at a lower cost,” Larkins explained. “I thought hot dogs were a good option. I want to try to make them stand out from everything else.”
Wonder Dogs offers toppings such as chili, sour kraut, yellow or brown mustard, jalapenos, coleslaw and more at no extra cost. The menu also includes nachos Larkins said is loaded down with cheese.
“There are kids that come after school just to get the nachos,” she said.
Owning and operating a food truck has always been a dream for Larkins. Part of that vision includes offering a lunch and dinner option apart from the ordinary.
“People get tired of the same old thing,” Larkins said. “I don’t blame them. And then when you go to your favorite places and something happens, either they change management or they’re having to cut their budget because of rising costs, they’re quality goes down. Some of them have almost given up, to be honest.”
Larkins aims for her camper-turned-food-truck to serve as the hero of quality hot dogs, but like most comic book characters, she comes with her own inspiration that keeps her going.
Larkins has an 18-year-old daughter and a 24-year-old son who have motivated her to chase after her food truck dream. Her son has down syndrome and has endured multiple surgeries and struggles throughout his life. But his determination kept him going while also inspiring Larkins along the way.
“When my son was real little, he liked a show called Wonder Pets. I kind of took that name and wanted to do a super hero theme because this kid is absolutely my hero. He’s my little warrior.”
Larkins had her own obstacles to overcome such as her own medical issues and working various other jobs that left her unfulfilled. Now, with the help of her boyfriend, Nicky, who helps operate Brain Freeze and helped Larkins on her setup, she’s able to operate the mobile eatery as she sees fit.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to help people,” she said. “I’ve worked for corporations and other companies. I’ve done everything from paint sales to gift shop sales to manufacturing. But the thing I’ve loved most and always wanted to do is cook for people.”
Up ahead, Larkins looks to upgrade her setup to a more mobile operation that would offer the opportunity to travel to various events throughout Kingsport and the region. But for now, she’s ready to get the word out there about Wonder Dogs.
“I’ve had a lot of good, positive feedback,” Larkins said. “And a lot of my customers are from word of mouth referred from other people. Funfest was good. I had a lot of people come check it out. There is one gentleman who works around here. He’s here at 11:30 almost on the dot — mustard, ketchup and onion and he’s ready to go.”
When 11:30 a.m. hit, just as she said, that regular customer, Cary Dewitt, showed up for his regular lunch order.
“I’m trying to get some more people over here for you,” Dewitt told Larkins. “I’m glad I stopped the first time. I came through here, got a hot dog and have been coming ever since.”
Wonder Dogs is open 12 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and is located at 1913 Sherwood Road. For more information see the Wonder Dogs Facebook page.