By Myles Ma
Even in its nascent months, Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs has carved out a following among the firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians of the area.
Though the draw of the stand is its hot dogs, its character is tied closely with its owner, a former firefighter, and its customers, many of whom are emergency service workers.
They have helped adorn the hot dog shack with memorabilia, its walls covered in helmets, photographs and badges representing several emergency service groups from Lawrence, Ewing and Hamilton. Owner Paul Tweedly calls the place a shrine to the men and women in the emergency services. He has hung a hand-written sign above the counter that reads, “This business is dedicated to the men and women associated with all emergency services, the military and their facilities, and for all those who volunteer to help others.”
The dedication is personal. Tweedly, who just turned 50, is a recently retired fire captain, and his own helmet is among those one the wall. He had served in the Trenton Fire Department, Engine 3, for 26 years before going into the food industry full time.
Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs is also a memorial. The restaurant’s logo, a dalmatian puppy, wears a fire helmet with the number 343, for the number of firefighters who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The helmet of Manny Rivera, a Trenton firefighter who died this year after suffering a heart attack while saving a man from a burning building, is among those on display. Tweedly was his captain, and spoke at his funeral.
Tweedly says his love of serving the public has translated well into serving the customer.
“People feel comfortable coming in because they know they’ll be greeted with a smile and respect,” he said.
Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs stands at a location Tweedly says is good for business, on 2230 Princeton Pike. Tweedly attracts customers mainly from nearby spots like Lawrence High School and Notre Dame High School, several nearby police and fire departments and the National Guard Armory on Eggerts Crossing. Many of his customers are people living nearby, who can walk to the stand. One of Tweedly’s goals since manning the stand has been getting foot traffic from the neighborhood.
Since turning the business formerly known as Gelato’s into Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs, Tweedly has worked to open up the restaurant and make it more community-friendly. Where Gelato’s had no place to sit indoors, Tweedly has a counter with fire-red stools. There is also seating outside, and Tweedly hopes to install more.
“What we’re trying to do is make this a community family place,” he said.
Tweedly first started as a partner at Gelato’s, which was then exclusively an ice cream stand, in 2007. Fellow firefighter Chris Baldassari offered him the opportunity. Tweedly bit, but he had a different vision for the place, which came to fruition after Baldassari left and when the restaurant was rechristened this year.
The most obvious change at Tweedly made is the addition of the hot dogs. The Hatfield dogs come either boiled or fried, and Tweedly offers a variety of firehouse-themed options for the toppings. The tallest order is undoubtedly the full box. In firefighter lingo, a full box alarm means that three engines respond to the fire. Naturally, the full box hot dog has everything on it: mustard, onions, sauerkraut and relish.
Customers can also try the three chili dog varieties: the 2nd alarm, the 3rd alarm and the chief. The stand also continues to serve ice cream.
“We give people as many options as possible,” he said.
In only two years Tweedly has gone from quenching fires to quelling appetites. And so far, he is having a blast, meeting new people and growing his business.
“It’s been an amazing run here so far,” he said.
Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Call (609) 323-7253 for more information.