Ed the Hotdogger’s red beret is visible from well across the street, nestled in the frame made by his concession cart and the two large black and yellow Hoffy hot dog brand umbrellas open overhead. The red beret moves back and forth from the deep fryer, to one of several coolers laid out behind the cart, back to the front of the stand.
He alternates between Spanish and English as he greets the people walking by, coming in and out of the county courthouse with which his stand shares a block on the southwest corner of First Avenue and Jefferson Street. He invites his customers to take a break at the fold-out tables and chairs set up nearby, where he’s placed poinsettia plants for the holiday season.
Eduardo Haramina is friends with everyone from the judges and lawyers on their lunch breaks to the homeless who spend their afternoons huddled nearby on the same block. He said he served Sandra Day O’Connor when she was a judge here in the 70s.
He warmly greets a woman in Spanish as she walks by, who he later says is the Justice of the Peace.
“She’s from Argentina,” he says. “I’m probably the first Argentinian who came here to Phoenix, then everybody else who come here — they come to see me.”
For the past 45 years, from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, Haramina has faithfully served hot dogs, cookies, soda and gum to the people of downtown Phoenix. He takes pride in his special creations, such as the Chili Cheese Burrito Dog — a hot dog, chili beans, and cheese all wrapped and deep fried in a tortilla.
Haramina’s stand is a culmination of his life — his Argentinian roots and his knack for business that he’s used in a wide array of ventures from Buenos Aires to Phoenix.
“I am very, very blessed. I think that I have a lot of angels always pulling me up and picking me up,” he said. “The nicest things happen to me, honestly.”
Business in Buenos Aires
Haramina declined to provide his specific age, saying age is “something you feel, and what’s in your heart.” But he was in his 20s when he first made his journey from Argentina to the United States in 1971. Prior to that, he had a variety of businesses in Buenos Aires.
Haramina wanted to be an ambassador growing up, but he said he always liked to do business as well. He now considers himself an “ambassador of goodwill.”
“I touch people one-on-one,” he said. “This is maybe something that’s more important.”
Haramina went to college in Argentina and completed his mandatory military service before joining the federal police force for a year and a half. He said he had a good salary with this position, which allowed him to start a new business selling wine after his police contract expired.
Haramina spent the next three years in Buenos Aires, selling wines from the western city of Mendoza, known for its Malbecs and other red wines. One of his wine suppliers became an ambassador to what was then Yugoslavia. Knowing he had an interest in diplomacy, the supplier invited Haramina to work at the Argentinian embassy in Yugoslavia. But a revolution (what Haramina said was one of many in the country) and a coup thwarted those plans after he had already stopped his wine business.
So he opened an ice cream shop in downtown Buenos Aires. It was here he met his wife, Mitzi, who was from the United States and living nearby while working as a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization, a regional office for the United Nations World Health Organization.
He described his life with Mitzi as “a long, beautiful story.” He said he was more than happy to give Mitzi free samples when she came in.
“I guess that she loved my ice cream,” he said. “But she was very stingy; she never buy one.”
‘A long, beautiful story’
Haramina started spending more time with Mitzi and eventually proposed to her, but her job transferred her to Brazil after she had been in Buenos Aires for three years. By this time, Haramina had moved on to his next business venture managing a parking lot, which he said was a lucrative business back then.
With the down time he had managing the parking lot, he opened what he describes as a brick-and-mortar version of his current hot dog cart on the property. But he still missed Mitzi.
That Christmas, Mitzi came back to Buenos Aires to visit in what Haramina described as one of his favorite memories.
“That was a wonderful time,” he said. “She already knew my parents, and we had a very, very nice and bless(ed) Christmas. I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Christmas came and went, and so did Mitzi. Haramina said he was hesitant to leave his business because he had a contract to fulfill, and it would have been hard to leave things unattended.
“August came, and I thought ‘I can’t be on my birthday without seeing Mitzi,’” he said. So he took his first plane flight to Brazil to see her, landing just before midnight on his birthday. He said he made up his mind that he didn’t want to live without her, but they still had to figure out how their future together would work.
“She was very committed, and she had a lot of drive in whatever she’s doing,” he said. “And people, of course, appreciated what she was doing.”
He thought it would be “egocentric” of himself to make her move for him, but he said he could make a living anywhere they went, so he decided to come to the U.S. by himself, where he took English courses at a school in Portland, Oregon. After six months, he said he had the courage to go back to Argentina and tell his parents he was getting married.
The couple decided to get married in Rio de Janeiro — a halfway point between their families — in what Haramina said was “a very diplomatic solution.” They married in an old Catholic church overlooking the city, then traveled to several cities in Brazil, Peru and Mexico for their honeymoon.
On April 30, 1971, the Haraminas arrived in Los Angeles. They bought a yellow 1971 squareback Volkswagen and came to Phoenix to start their new life.
A changing city
Haramina opened Ed’s Mini Deli in North Phoenix, across the street from Alhambra High School on Camelback Road and 39th Avenue. He said the spot was fabulous, and he soon began getting more business than he could handle.
“At the time, it seemed everything I was doing was successful. (I) was considering myself like Midas,” he said “It’s much harder now; but I have fun, and I still enjoy myself.”
Haramina said he was the first person to get a license to sell hot dogs in downtown Phoenix after lobbying city council to pass an ordinance to allow hot dog carts in 1976. He initially managed six carts around the central city, with the main operation located on Washington and First streets.
His warehouse at the time was located at Washington Street between Central Avenue and First Street, in the old Ellington Building. He said the building was constructed in the 1880s, and included a motel and a seedy bar. For more than 20 years, he kept his equipment for all of his carts there.
Haramina laments much of the demolition he has seen over the decades.
“When you demolish those old buildings, it’s like you’re taking the soul out of a city,” he said.
He said he also fought to keep a park that was located where CityScape is now.
“They don’t like heritage in this town,” he said. “Everything has to be demolished and building something new, something new.”
Haramina eventually started looking for a new commissary that would be centrally-located for his hot dog carts. After short stints at a couple of other buildings, he came to occupy what was then the First Interstate Bank on Washington Street and Central Avenue.
The building included three stories underground and a lobby Haramina said was two or three stories high with marble from Palermo, Italy. Haramina stayed in the building for almost five years after the bank moved to what is now the Wells Fargo building. He acted as its caretaker when it was bought by “shady” owners who planned to demolish the building.
The developers told Haramina he could take whatever he wanted from the building before they demolished it, so he and a friend who taught high school welding dismantled and took every bit of marble from the building. The marble was eventually installed in the bathroom of an Italian restaurant he used to own in the current location of Reathrey Sekong, a Cambodian restaurant on Indian School Road and Longview Avenue.
He also used material from the old bank to build his current commissary.
“I didn’t waste anything,” he said.
His old Italian restaurant, Fellini’s, and his Ed the Hotdogger cart were both included in previous State Fairs as food carts in the early 2000s. He closed Fellini’s in 2010 when his wife’s health began to worsen, but he maintained his hot dog cart.
“The hot dog has been the soul of my whole enterprise,” he said.
‘You name it, he knows them’
Benjamin Hoff, 32, is one of Haramina’s regulars. He is a student at the Walter Cronkite School on ASU’s downtown campus and a volunteer at Friendly House nearby. Hoff is trying to become fluent in Spanish, so he practices with Haramina when he orders.
“He’s got a cool personality. He owns the business, and it shows by the way he operates it,” Hoff said. “He takes a lot of pride in his business … he gets to know all the people.”
“You name it, he knows them out here,” Hoff said.
Laura Lasko, a county probation officer, has known Haramina for four or five years. She came to rely on Haramina’s cart as a landmark for clients to find her office, which is across First Avenue from the cart.
Lasko works in a specialized, year-long program to help people with nonviolent, drug-related felonies reduce their sentences. She said it can be hard for her clients to get their bearings when they come downtown, so she talked to Haramina about using his cart as a landmark for clients. He also directs her clients to her office when they come to him.
“He’s my little landmark,” she said.
Lasko gave Ed a trophy of a realistic hot dog that Haramina displays every work day next to his beverages and snacks. It reads “Ed you are the BEST guy ever !!! Your friend Laura.”
“He’s always so sweet and gracious,” Lasko said. “Plus, his hot dogs are great.”
Pieces of the past
There are many things in Haramina’s day-to-day life that are constant right now — his schedule, many of his customers, even the dessert he eats after lunch every day (a homemade mix of quinoa, apple, pear and oatmeal). But it’s the changes he’s experienced that stay with him: Memories of the old park and old buildings, memories of his father and mother, and most of all, memories of his wife Mitzi, who passed away in 2014 after a fight with breast cancer.
She was one of the only people who got to see Haramina in his element in both of his homes — serving and connecting with the people of both Buenos Aires and downtown Phoenix. After 43 years of marriage, her legacy motivates Haramina every day.
“I cannot imagine there is another woman with such courage, with such zest for life that she had; but she’s still with me every day, every moment, every night, all the time,” he said of Mitzi. “And when I’m not talking to journalists who are trying to write my story, I’m talking to her.”
Correction: January 20, 2017
An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the Haraminas’ car as a Volvo instead of a Volkswagen. The story has been updated with this change.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.