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Entrepreneur takes gamble on new career

RIO DEL MAR — Craig Hammond spent a majority of his career in the casino industry, working executive sales and marketing positions around the U.S.

Now, he has launched a new venture, one vastly different and considerably smaller than that in his former life.

The Hiccuping Dragon is a small hot dog stand nestled in Rio Del Mar Esplanade. With a beachside real estate, ocean views and a steady crowd of hungry beachgoers, Hammond couldn’t have picked a better spot for his four-month-old stand.

The business was named for Hammond’s son, whose nickname ‘Hiccup’ stemmed from his frequent twitchy movements in the womb before he was born in the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese astrology calendar.

If locally sourced ingredients and handcrafted American food delicacies are a plus for Hammond’s customers, the venture is also a personal boon for him. It allows him to live near his family, while the part-time gig lets him take care of his young son.

In fact, it was a desire to live near his aging parents that drew Hammond back to the West Coast, where he was planning on returning to Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, which he helped open. He also worked in Oklahoma, Vermont and New York.

But during the drive across the country to California, Hammond said he learned that a tribal dispute caused the casino to temporarily close and his job offer to evaporate.

“So my family went from Fresno to Watsonville,” he said.

Hammond runs the stand at Rio Del Mar from Wednesday through Sunday from noon until sundown. He also offers his towable stand for catering services.

He taps into local businesses, getting his products from Corralitos Market and Sausage Company and Freedom Meat Lockers, and from Paulino’s Bakery.

Hammond offers a condiment bar that includes several types of mustard, freshly chopped onions, shredded cheese, relish, and, of course, ketchup.

“I like people being able to play with their food,” he said. “It’s kind of fun listening to the adults come in and giggle and say, ‘look a this!’”

For the future, Hammond hopes to add kettle corn to his menu, and fresh-squeezed lemonade — an endeavor his daughter would help him with.

Hammond said customers can expect a made-to-order hotdog that comes out “nice and juicy, hot and perfect.”

“We’re doing this full-time and trying to make it a go,” he said. “I’m here and I am ready for whatever comes my way.”

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For information, visit www.hiccupingdragon.com.

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