Chris Van Jura is bringing a taste of New Jersey to Silver Spring with his new food truck, Catalyst Hot Dogs. The trailer, which hit the streets on Dec. 2, is serving up classic hot dogs in the Home Depot parking lot at 2300 Broadbirch Drive.
Montgomery Magazine chatted with the 38-year-old hot dog aficionado about opening his food truck during the pandemic and what he’ll be cooking up for the community.
What inspired you to start Catalyst Hot Dogs?
The biggest reason I wanted to open a stand was that I was furloughed for the second time at the beginning of the pandemic. I have a young son, a mortgage and other responsibilities I have to take care of. I’m also a 20-year hospitality veteran who just wants to be taking care of people, and my partner told me that I just need to get working and talking to people again.
Getting back into this and doing what I love while simultaneously serving what I love has been fantastic. There’s no mission behind it aside from giving you something with love, care and a little bit of Jersey.
Why a hotdog trailer?
I’m a born-and-raised native New Jersian, and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a good quality hot dog stand where I’m from. When I was a teenager, and we all got our licenses, we would just drive around to hot dog joints.
I’ve been in hospitality for many years and I would say I just wanted to open a hotdog stand where we serve what we like and keep it nice and simple. I decided to do a trailer because brick and mortar didn’t seem to be a great way to go.
I was driving one day and saw what is now my trailer. I literally swerved across two lanes of traffic to get the phone number for it. At that point we had started a GoFundMe to raise capital for the business and were able to raise enough to buy the trailer.
What kind of culinary training do you have?
Up until six months ago I had never worked in a kitchen. I have a background in theater arts and have been in hospitality for decades as a busboy, host, bartender, server and management.
Being on my own line is so much fun, and I have the utmost respect for the back of the house because now I’m all of them: executive chef, sous chef, prep cook and dishwasher. I just want to provide warm, genuine hospitality. Whether I’m serving you a $5 hot dog or $50 steak, there’s no difference.
Where did the name Catalyst come from?
My oldest brother, Michael, passed away in 2012, and one of his friends shared with me that Michael had been making his own bagels for a while. One of his ambitions in life was to open up a local coffee and bagel shop and call it “Catalyst” because it’s the ignition, it starts things. When I had to come up with a name it was a no-brainer for me. I probably only spent a few minutes on it.
What’s on the menu?
We serve Roseda Farms whole beef, Black Angus, dry-aged hot dogs. We got a few different styles, including what I call “Jersey Dogs” that have our house-made hot and sweet relish and Texas chili sauce, which ironically has its roots in New Jersey. We’ve got chili cheese dogs, relish and mustard, and your straight classic with just cheese. They’re all in homage to the hot dog stands I grew up going to. We also have a vegan dog, vegan chili, and I’m currently looking for a gluten-free bun so we’ve got food for everyone.
Why do you call them “helicopter dogs?”
These come from my family. We started cutting an X on the end of the hot dogs, and I decided to bring that to the stand. My father, who’s been an incredible support line, was quick to point out that my Uncle Phil was the first one to do that. He was a very talented cook and a tremendous man, so he gets credit for the dogs. Basically, this is just me in a trailer serving food the way we had it at home.
Any fan favorites so far?
It looks like the All the Way, with spicy brown mustard and onions, is neck and neck with the Capitol Dog. I joke that we had to kiss the ring a bit and that’s why we did the Capitol Dog. I couldn’t get out of D.C. without trying Mambo Sauce wings, and I decided to try the sauce on a hot dog with raw onions. We use Capitol City Mambo Sauce and immediately got great feedback.
What are you hopeful for in the future?
I’m looking forward to doing events—tailgates, birthdays, neighborhood parties, I’m there. There’s a big movement for food trucks especially during this pandemic since we can just come to the neighborhood. It’s so tough for everyone out there right now, and I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but I’m doing it.
My partner is brilliant and supportive; she and my sister have been helping me with marketing and social media. We’re working hard and I understand why we all had to close, but there’s millions of talented people who been forced to suffer. We haven’t decided on a charity yet, but I intend to give back to the industry as soon as I can.