San Francisco’s Original All-Beef Hotdog

Presenting the Stanley Steamer

  • Made with 100% Grass and Vegetarian-Fed Beef
  • Pasture Raised
  • No Hormones
  • No Antibiotics
  • No Guilt

The Stanley’s Steamers Story

More Turns than a Twisted Pretzel!
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In 1974, there were no food vendors on the streets of San Francisco. The law required anyone seeking to peddle food to first obtain a Peddler Permit from the San Francisco Police Department. But when Stanley Roth, then a 24-year old U.C. Berkeley student, tried to obtain a permit to help pay the costs of law school, he was told he had to first obtain a “sidewalk occupancy permit” from the Department of Public Works.

The DPW told Roth that only the Police Department issued sidewalk occupancy permits, and the Police insisted the DPW was the issuing agency. With neither agency issuing the required permit, the Police wouldn’t accept Roth’s Peddler Permit application. The Board of Permit Appeals couldn’t hear the case because Roth hadn’t legally been denied for anything….the Police just wouldn’t accept the paperwork. Frustrated with being caught in a bureaucratic “Catch-22,” Roth decided to sell his pretzels under the newly passed Street Artist law, and obtained a Street Artist license to sell his pretzels as “Baked Sculptures of Flour and Water.” With pretzels hanging on display, Roth posted a sign on his pretzel cart that read: “Pretzel earrings $25, or make your own, 25 cents each.”

The Quest for a Health Permit

Two days later, Roth was cited by the San Francisco Health Department for not having a health permit. But when he inquired as to how to get a health permit, Roth was told no health permit existed for Street Artist licenses, since “arts and crafts” were not considered food. Because customers were eating the pretzels, Roth needed to have a health permit, which meant having to obtain a Peddler Permit, which was unobtainable.

A Trip to the Pet Store Sparks an Idea

That night, Roth went with his roommate to a local pet store to get medication for some sick tropical fish. When the pet store owner reached for Tetracycline, a prescription drug, Roth inquired how a pet store could legally sell a restricted substance. The pet store owner pointed to a sign that read, “The pharmaceuticals we sell are for pet use only and are not intended for human consumption.” At the bottom of the sign was a cite from the California Health and Safety Code. A quick trip to the law library (the internet was yet to be invented), and Roth had his answer: if you inform people that the item you are selling is not intended for human consumption, it is legally not considered food.

The next day, Roth posted a sign on his pretzel cart that read: “Although the sculptures we bake are delicious, they are sold for display purposes only and are not intended for human consumption.” When the health inspector returned a few days later, he let Roth keep operating while he went back downtown to report this latest twist in the pretzel story.

Herb Caen to the Rescue

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A few days passed, and Roth was busy selling his pretzels when a friendly, white-haired gentleman approached the cart. Eating a purchased “baked sculpture” despite the “not for human consumption” disclaimer, the stranger asked Roth what was behind the obviously tongue-in-cheek signage. After Roth recounted his story, the “stranger” introduced himself as San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. The following week, on July 24, 1974, Caen’s column headlined Roth’s struggles to get a Peddler Permit under the banner, “How Red the Tape.”

The City Offers a Compromise

After the Herb Caen article was published, Roth was summoned to a meeting attended by all the City agencies responsible for issuing permits. At the meeting, the Police Department offered to recognize Roth’s Street Artist License as valid for food products, if Roth agreed to get a health permit for his operations. Roth agreed. To get a health permit, however, Roth would have to meet the California Restaurant Act, which required a 3-compartment sink, a cart with four walls, floor and ceiling, and a mechanically-powered vent hood. All of these things were impossible to do with the City’s requirement that a cart be no larger than 3 feet wide by 4 feet long by 5 feet high. The only other alternative was to wrap each pretzel like a candy bar, so that the food could not be contaminated by touching or airborne contaminants. Wrapping each pretzel was the solution recommended by the health department, but the pretzels could then not be served hot.

The future was looking bleak.

Help from a French Bread Company

With only two choices available-- meet the Restaurant Act or wrap each pretzel-- the options appeared limited. As Roth pondered his options while shopping at the local grocery store, he put a loaf of French bread into his basket….a loaf of French bread that was clearly open on one end. How could bread be legally sold so unwrapped and exposed to contamination?

Roth called the bread company and discovered that French bread had it’s own ordinance-- the “Bakery Sanitation Law”, which stated that “hearth-baked and hard-crusted rolls” were exempt from the California Restaurant Act, and would be considered “properly wrapped” if “enclosed on three sides.” Roth’s pretzel carts had three-sided windows.

How did one get pretzels in California declared to be “hearth-baked or hard-crusted rolls?”

Enter the CCDEH

Roth discovered that the interpretation of health codes is under the jurisdiction of the “California Conference of the Directors of Environmental Health,” a committee of local health inspectors who meet regularly around the state to discuss such health issues as whether or not pretzels can be classified as similar to French bread. Roth went to Sacramento and got a ruling that his pretzels qualified as “hearth-baked or hard-crusted rolls” and were therefore exempt from the California Restaurant Act. As such, Roth’s pretzel carts were reclassified as “Bakery Delivery Vehicles” and his pretzels were considered properly wrapped if sold from a cart with windows on three sides.

Roth got his health permit on September 16, 1974. On September 17, 1974, the City Attorney’s Office informally ruled that Roth’s Street Artist License could not be used for food, and Roth’s license was promptly revoked by the police.

Appeal to the Board of Permit Appeals

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Roth appealed the decision to the Board of Permit Appeals, and the case was heard on December 2, 1974. In a 4-to-1 vote, the Board ruled that to satisfy the letter of the law, “pretzels” would be recognized in San Francisco as works of art, and Roth’s Street Artist License would henceforth be valid for the sale of “Baked Sculptures of Flour and Water.”

In San Francisco, pretzels were now a recognized art form and Roth’s Street Artist License was reinstated.

The Board of Supervisors Amend the Street Artist Law

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One month later, Supervisor John Molinari introduced legislation amending the Street Artist Ordinance to prohibit the selling of food items.

Roth’s Street Artist License was revoked for a second time, and this time the Board of Permit Appeals was powerless to override a new ordinance.

The Board of Permit Appeals Gets Creative

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Being unable to overrule the new ordinance, the Board of Permit Appeals instead ordered the Police Department to accept Roth’s application for a Peddler Permit WITHOUT requiring the non-obtainable “sidewalk occupancy” permit. As directed, the Police accepted Roth’s application for a Peddler Permit and then denied Roth’s request. Roth appealed once again to the Board, and on November 24, 1975 the Board of Permit Appeals overruled the Police Department and issued Roth the first Food Peddler’s Permit in San Francisco’s history.

The Stanley’s Steamers Hot Dog Story

In 1982, facing a two-year shutdown of the Cable Car system for needed repairs and seeking a food that would be a lunch rather than a snack staple, Roth amended his Peddler Permit to include hot dogs. A year later, he designed and built the first hot dog carts approved for use in California and the “Stanley’s Steamers” hot dog company was born.

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In 1992, Roth’s company was awarded a Mayor’s Loan to construct a new commissary facility and expand its existing fleet of hot dog stands. Mayor Jordan’s award letter complimented Roth for creating “employment opportunities for local residents” while contributing to “the dynamic vitality and economic health” of the City. Jordan observed “it is entrepreneurs such as yourselves which are the backbone of this City… I am particularly pleased to be able to assist a family-owned business that originated in San Francisco and continues to operate within the City’s thriving areas.”

Today, the Stanley’s Steamers hot dog company (officially known as San Francisco Carts and Concessions) employs more than 25 individuals and is a popular and familiar landmark throughout the City. Stanley Roth is still involved in the day to day operations of the company.

Thank you for participating in the Mayor’s Wine and Flower Festival. Your pretzels and colorful cart added to the event.

–Mayor Joseph Alioto
(1975)

Dear Stanley…Thank you again for making the celebration of the "Return of the Cable Cars" a memorable event and a wonderful tribute to the spirit that is San Francisco. None of it would have been possible without your efforts to organize the parades…

–Mayor Diane Feinstein
(1984)

Dear Mr. Roth. Congratulations on your recent expansion. It is entrepreneurs such as yourselves which are the backbone of this City.

–Mayor Frank Jordan
(1992)

Thank you, Stanley, for your many years of donations. I have worked on the Macy’s Passport event since 2001 and I know you’ve been a donor at least since the early 1990’s…

–Rafael Musni
Food Coordinator
Macys Passport
(AIDS/HIV Charity)

Stan and his employees are excellent ambassadors for the area, contributing to the positive experience people have when visiting the Union Square Area.

–Donna N. Ficarrotta
Assistant Director
Union Square Association

Out of all the hotdog stands in the City, I would say that this is the best one.

–Helen W
San Francisco

Best hot dog in America! Serious. Way better than NYC which is famous. You have to get ‘Stanley's’ though. It’s his personal recipe.

–Shanestar H
San Francisco

The hot dogs aren't overcooked and the buns are always fresh…

–Cathy A
San Francisco

Taking in the city sights and sounds at Justin Herman Plaza, my Stanley Steamer tasted simply divine.

–Jason B
San Francisco

It got better and better with each bite.

–Maximillian M
San Francisco

I wish all carts could serve hot dogs as delicious as the one’s from Stanley’s Steamers…

–Miriam B
Tiburon

These are natural-casing franks with a nice ‘bite’.

–Tom H
San Francisco

If you’re downtown as need to grab a bite as you walk or window shop, don’t hesitate to try a Stanley Steamer.

–Sean M
San Francisco

You can’t get much better than sitting on a bench in Union Square and eating a Stanley Steamer outside.

–Alex R
San Francisco

The sauerkraut is free and always fresh!

–Charles W
San Francisco