On warm, sunny days between 9 a.m. and noon Jeff Spencer of Just Jeff’s can be found right out front of Reed Hall on Hitt Street, serving up food with a smile to students, faculty and staff from his hot dog cart. Although he’s only had his cart since August 2013, Just Jeff’s is now a student favorite. During the lunch hour, he can usually be found with an extended line. Some customers even have standing orders with Spencer that they pick up during the week.
The menu on the Just Jeff’s cart includes various items: Polish sausage, Philly cheesesteak and homemade chili. His most popular items are his Vienna beef hot dogs and his cheeseburgers. Usually selling on average over 150 hot dogs and 85 cheeseburgers per day, Spencer is normally sold out by 12:30 p.m. However, the work is not finished when he packs up his cart.
“I work 12- to 15-hour days, Monday through Friday,” Spencer said. “If I make chili the day is longer.”
Even for a former truck driver, this is a long haul. Spencer explained that he takes pride in what he does and wants it to show in his food, even if this means putting in extra hours.
“The entire cart is power washed daily,” he said. “It has to be spotless, because I eat off of it too.”
When Spencer opened up the cart for business last year, it was the first step in his five-year plan towards being in a brick-and-mortar restaurant downtown serving street-style food. He explained that he’s always wanted to own a restaurant, and this cart has allowed him to ease into it and learn the business from the ground up.
“I want to retire in a restaurant, so I quit truck driving to start this,” he said.
Every other Sunday, Spencer makes the trek from Columbia to Kansas City to purchase the hot dogs he will need for the next two weeks. He explained that if he has a catering event on the weekend or if business has been busy, he goes more frequently. All the beef used for the cheeseburgers is purchased locally from the Booneville Livestock Auction Barn.
“Interacting with students is the best part about my job,” Spencer said. “They’re the best in Columbia.”
For many students, the respect is mutual. Spencer is on a first-name basis with many of his customers, and he normally chats with them while they wait in line as he flips burgers and wraps hot dogs.
“The food is always good and the service is really friendly,” said Nate Meister, freshman engineering major. “It’s also pretty convenient.”
As a result of staying open throughout the summer break, Spencer has built up a clientele with the faculty and staff on campus. Many of them have standing orders with Spencer. Most of these regular customers are ready for him to open up a second cart.
“Jeff is a real nice character,” said Patty Eggleston, office support assistant in Reed Hall and one of Jeff’s regular customers. “It’s fun to go out and chat with him while he’s flipping burgers and cooking up the dogs.”
Since he started the business last year, sales have already doubled. With all the regular and new customers, 73 percent of Just Jeff’s cart sales are returning customers, according to their Square debit report.
“We’re not only selling hot dogs,” Spencer said. “We’re building a solid reputation and a repertoire for the future restaurant.”
Vsit Just Jeff’s website to find out when he is going to be on campus or to book a catering event.