The Hot Hogs BBQ food truck in downtown Keene is going out of business after nearly five years, as its owner moves to a less demanding job.
Shana Davis, a Keene resident who opened the award-winning truck in 2017, said her decision was not related to any financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On the contrary, she said Hot Hogs’ most recent season — from last April to the end of December — was “hugely busy.”
“I couldn’t keep [food] in stock,” she said. “… We were selling out frequently.”
But the pandemic prompted Davis to reflect on the future of the business and her own work-life balance.
When Hot Hogs was open — most of the year, excluding the winter months — Davis said she often spent more than 70 hours per week preparing and selling food, managing the truck’s finances and doing its marketing. Expanding the business further would have prompted additional costs like purchasing a larger trailer and hiring staff, she said.
She decided to step away instead and has taken a human-resources role at a local company that she said offers much-needed stability.
“It will be nice to work a 40-hour-a-week job with a consistent schedule and not have to worry about what happens if something breaks or if it rains,” she said.
Davis and her husband, Ricky, opened Hot Hogs shortly after winning an amateur pulled-pork competition at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, she said. The day after the contest, they saw that a food truck had left its former spot near the corner of Emerald and Wilson streets, so they decided to start a truck of their own at that location.
Ricky was initially going to handle most of Hot Hogs’ operations, since Shana — an accomplished country vocalist — had little cooking experience, she said. That changed, though, when the couple realized it made more sense for her to run the truck while he kept his day job at Polyonics, a Westmoreland label and tape manufacturer.
“All of a sudden, we had this switcheroo,” she said. “I had to learn how to cook really fast.”
Davis said she quickly grew to love the work, which included smoking her own meat and pulling it by hand. The truck’s barbecue fare, which she sold at its location downtown and various catering events, proved popular.
Hot Hogs was named best food truck in New Hampshire in WMUR’s viewers’ choice contest in 2017 — an award it won again last year. WMUR viewers also crowned the business as having the best barbecue in the state in 2018 and 2019.
Davis said she thinks Hot Hogs customers appreciated that its food was made from scratch. The truck garnered a loyal clientele, she said, calling the decision to close “heartbreaking” because she will no longer see those people every day. (Anyone with an outstanding gift certificate can request a cash refund, according to Davis.)
“They’ve all become friends,” she said. “I got to know exactly how they wanted their barbecue or how they liked their hot dogs.”
Although she is selling Hot Hogs’ two trailers, Davis said she plans to keep her trademark on the business’ name — partially for sentimental reasons but also with an eye to the future.
“You never know,” she said. “Maybe someday we’d be in a position, when we retire, to bring it back in some capacity … We really enjoyed doing this. It was a labor of love.”