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PORTLAND — After 43 years of running the ever-popular Top Dog food truck, with the eye-catching, distinctive trailer topped by a large, red hot dog, complete with mustard and relish, Andrea and Alan Spaulding have settled on a new owner.
The Spauldings’ goal was to also sell Top Dog to a Portland resident. “It’s an institution,” Alan Spaulding said.
The 1963 bun-colored former camper is based at the defunct Connecticut Central Railroad depot at 211 Marlborough Road, not far from the Portland Bridge. Alan Spaulding, who's been helping out his wife for about three years, built the trailer himself.
It is drawn by a 1972 yellow Marathon checker cab with an “Elvis” mannequin in a Hawaiian shirt in the passenger seat. The iconic Airstream trailer has been on Route 66 for so many decades that their customers span several generations. The stand has been featured in local media, as well as on national TV shows such as "Road Food.”
The couple insists on Thurmann’s natural casing hot dogs, and makes the sauerkraut from scratch. Over the years, the couple has had to forego many vacations because they prioritized the business. Customers come from all over Connecticut, upstate New York and even Europe one time, Andrea Spaulding has said.
After meeting Marissa Puida, daughter of Kim Greenlaw, who runs the Eggs Up breakfast spot down the street, the couple said she was “a natural” to take over. Puida’s mother owns the 1462 Portland-Cobalt Road restaurant, and saw the Facebook post announcing it was up for sale.
The Spauldings were looking for someone who shares their dedication to the food truck. “You’d be perfect for it,” Greenlaw told Puida.
They chose five individuals who stopped by to watch the operation in action. “Marissa came across as someone who really wanted this business,” Alan Spaulding said.
The Spauldings received an “overwhelming response” on social media from those wanting to take over the operation, Alan Spaulding said. In fact, they continue to get one or two queries a day. “I didn’t realize so many people wanted to be in the food truck business,” he said.
Puida, who waitresses at Eggs Up, has been around her mother’s restaurant since she was 4. She began as a dishwasher, then prep cook prior to becoming a server, she said.
“I’ll miss it when I do my own thing,” said Puida, who has gotten to know generations of customers who come every day to Eggs Up, and eventually bring their children and grandchildren to eat there.
“Andrea saw a little bit of herself in me,” Puida said. “She was the same age when she started doing it. She’s a people person, getting to know all the customers.”
“She appeared as somebody who’s been doing this for years: her personality, the way she treats people,” Andrea Spaulding said. “She is the person who is going to do it. I have no doubt she’ll continue to do so, if not better than Alan and I’ve done.”
During the interviews, Alan Spaulding warned his wife that she may have trouble finding a buyer who fit her parameters.
“‘They don’t exist,’” he told her. “And she did. When I met her, it was instantaneously hot dog lady,” she said with a chuckle. “It was like she was groomed for it. … She just had a way about her.”
The Spauldings were very discerning when it came to their search. “Andrea didn’t just sell it to anybody," Greenlaw said. "Andrea made everybody come in and work with her, and then she chose somebody. I thought that was incredible because she wanted somebody like [Puida]."
“You always want your kids to do as well as, if not better, than you,” said Greenlaw.
Puida will keep the menu of hot dogs, and eventually add her own specialties, such as Sloppy Joes.
“I can’t wait to carry it on,” Puida said. “People were very disappointed when they thought that it was closing down. To be able to keep it going is going to be awesome.
“They’ve run a successful business, and I hope I can be just as successful,” Puida added.
“She’s going to be very good at it. She’ll definitely give it her all. She’s a hard worker,” Greenlaw said. “Of course, I'll shoot myself in my foot because she’s my best waitress,” she said with a laugh. “I’m losing my best worker.”
“I feel bad,” her daughter admitted. “She’s my best friend and I love working with her, but she wanted me to have my own opportunity.”
Top Dog’s last day of business will be Sept. 23, when the couple plans a customer appreciation day.
It won’t be easy to entirely let go after more than 40 years, Andrea Spaulding said. “I’m going to have a really hard time. He’s a lot stronger than I am with separating,” she said, referring to her husband.
“All the people I’ve met over the years, all the friendships, it’s still part of me,” Andrea Spaulding said. “I could still do it for a few more years, but I understand my husband’s wish to end it on a high note.
“There’s going to be a lot of crying, and quite a bit of adjustment for me in the months to come,” she added.
“I can’t thank people enough for what I’ve experienced in 43 years,” Andrea Spaulding said. “I was a woman in business, which, back in the '80s, was hard to be. Especially a food truck: They were mostly run by men.
“The acceptance and kindness and encouragement I got from people, it’s going to break my heart to say goodbye to these people, but I’ll always have memories of it,” Andrea Spaulding said.
“I wanted to go out when things were good, and this is the time,” her husband said.