Keaton Tucker, who started Cycle Dogs by hauling a vegan hot dog cart around by bicycle, has reached the end of this particular road. The restaurant owner — who opened a brick-and-mortar location in 2021 — announced late last week in an Instagram video he would be selling his business. The last day of service will be October 31.
“I guess I want to make the video to apologize,” a visibly emotional Tucker said in the video. “Because when we’ve asked for helped you helped, you backed our Kickstarters... I came up short.”
“I felt pretty deflated, pretty defeated,” Tucker adds in an interview with Eater Seattle.
Tucker raised over $10,000 for his vegan hot dog cart through Kickstarter in 2015, and when the stand was successful he started a food truck and expanded the menu. When that was successful as well, he made plans to take over the Ballard space occupied by vegan restaurant No Bones Beach Club in order to put down roots and make money from drink sales. It opened in May 2021, at the height of the pandemic, but Tucker was apparently able to pivot to a takeout-based business. “I was able to justify the jump from truck to brick and mortar based on revenue,” he says.
But problems mounted for the first-time restaurant owner. Even when the lockdown measures that limited indoor dining were relaxed, Cycle Dogs wasn’t getting a lot of in-person customers. “Our food doesn’t travel well,” Tucker admits. “Fries get soggy, burgers are meant to be eaten right off the grill, same for hot dogs.”
“We can’t catch justify the overhead of the front of house, the bar, if everybody’s just doing delivery,” he adds.
Tucker also admits that he made some “bad decisions,” including taking out loans from what he describes as predatory lenders. Even after consolidating the loans, even though he says that sales have been good, he couldn’t make the finances work, especially with the high cost of labor.
To try to save Cycle Dogs, Tucker says, he “worked unpaid for about six months, easily doing 100-hour weeks. I abandoned my family, I didn’t see them, and I couldn’t do [save Cycle Dogs], even with me working for free.”
He is already in touch with multiple potential buyers, he says, and hopes to find someone who will continue Cycle Dogs. But he’ll be walking away. “I’m gonna get a job, and I’m gonna file for bankruptcy and try to get my life back on track,” he says. “I put everything I had into this. I live in my car. I didn’t get paid. You gotta have a little bit of an ego to get into the restaurant business. And that’s fine. And I do. And I got punched in the gut. And I learned a lot.”
He’s sharing his story, he says, because he wants people to know how difficult it is to own a restaurant, and what can happen when things go wrong. But when Eater Seattle spoke with him on Tuesday, October 17, he was trying to look for silver linings. “It’d be a fun story to tell one day, maybe,” he says. “After the pain wears off.”