The man behind Hunky Dog

Pauliasi Waqa stands at his booth along Victoria Pde, Suva, under his brand Hunky Dog. Picture: IAN CHUTE

When stumbling out of a Suva bar there is a welcoming aroma of sizzling sausages, chops, patties, chow mien noodles and toasting buns, among the many other odours.

In pre-COVID times this tinkering of the senses would begin at about 5pm and go on through the night until the very last pairs of boogie shoes had trotted out the doors of the dozen or so nightclubs that line Victoria Pde and Carnarvon St.

The car park in front of Civic Tower is the sight of the collection of street food vendors who turn up night after night to earn a living and feed the drunk, at what we all know as the Hot Dog Stand.

Tents are set up in the car park about 5pm and dismantled just before or at dawn. Burgers, hot dogs and sub-sandwiches are always on the menu.

It all started about 21 years ago with a man just trying to earn a living and support his family.

Pauliasi Waqa or Waqa as he is known to his loyal customers who keep coming back to his stall for their daily orders at his stall the Hunky Dog.

“I started Hunky Dog back in 2000,” he said. “I used to work at Cardo’s Steakhouse when it was at the back of Funscape in what was the Regal Theatre (Where Value City is now located).

“After a while I left and was unemployed and I needed to support my wife and young children so I thought of starting my own hot dog stand.”

If modesty were a being it would come in the form of Waqa. He quietly goes about running his business, ensuring that every hot dog that leaves the hot plate is of the same quality as the one before.

But where did this attention to detail and commitment to quality come from?

“I went to America in 1989 and I was there for about five years. ” I ended up working in a dairy shop that sold hot dogs.

It was just a small shop on the corner of a street and it had everything from groceries to liquor and it would open early in the morning and close late in the night.”

It was at this shop where Waqa learned how to make a real American hot dog.

“There was already someone selling hot dogs at the Hibiscus Auto Port, just across the road, but when I saw how they were making theirs I thought I could use what I learned and do better.

“They used butter here and I came and introduced mayonnaise, the buns were not the proper hot dog buns and they were using the wrong sausages, they used butchers sausages and I used Frankfurters “Other stalls could only get tomato sauce and mustard on their hot dogs and then I got relish and it’s little things like that made the difference.

“I started at the corner of Carnarvon and McArthur streets, I sold out.

The next day I started selling at Gorrie St but in the day time and I moved near the Fiji Development Bank building and then I came to the car park.

“I was selling 600 hundred hot dogs a day at one point before COVID-19, and sometimes I’d sold out by 3am.

“These days I can sell about half of that but I prefer to only have about 200 buns so if it is a really slack night I don’t take too many buns back home and I can still buy fresh ones the next day.”

Food was one of the first things people turned to after losing their jobs with the onset of the economic crisis fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Waqa said in the early days business was booming and over the years it has started to lag and this was only made worse by the pandemic.

“Before the employment rate was higher, there were more people who had some money to spend, things were cheaper, but there was also less competition. I started here alone and now there are close to 10 stalls.

“It is understandable because of the pandemic a lot of people have lost their jobs, but they still need to make a living.”

As night owl, Waqa has seen a lot especially
the rise of petty crimes in the area at night and says this too has had an effect on him being able to take money home for his family.

“I’ve seen over the years that people in Suva have become desperate, whether it is for money or whatever the amount of petty crimes arising out of this I don’t think it
ever happened before.

“It makes things harder for us as street food vendors because we rely on people being able to get to our stalls safely and buy what we are selling.”

Last Monday, Waqa set up his booth at
the Civic Tower car park long Victoria Pde with a hotplate sizzling.

Being the only stall open for business Waqa reminisced the days when he first started being Suva’s tastier hot dogs.

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