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Meet New York’s Hot Dog King, who sleeps in his van outside the Met to protect his coveted spot

Dan Rossi standing outside his hot dog cart, left. Him handing a woman a hot dog, right. Rossi being arrested. inset.
Dan Rossi standing outside his hot dog cart, left. Him handing a woman a hot dog, right. Rossi being arrested. inset.

If you’ve ever had a hot dog outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you probably got it from Dan Rossi — aka the Hot Dog King — who sleeps in his van parked outside the landmark to protect his coveted spot.

In the nearly 20 years that Rossi has been slinging dogs outside the Met, he’s become quite the Big Apple legend — something he says he, quite frankly, “doesn’t get.”

“As far as ‘icon,’ I’m it, I guess. I enjoy it a little bit, I just don’t understand it,” the 74-year-old Marine veteran told The Post with a laugh while hand-building new carts in his Hunts Point workspace for the upcoming busy season.

Although he doesn’t like “living in my car,” Rossi says he posts up around the clock near his spot because he’s “worked very hard to build my company,” which has seen success and failure in equal measure.

One of the low points for the king was the foreclosure on his six-acre home in Greenwich, Conn., something he documented in his recent memoir, “The New York Hot Dog King.”

But despite these and other hardships over the decades, Rossi’s fighting spirit remains undiminished.

“My home is in front of the Met,” he said. “I’m doing what I have to do. I could leave the spot and go do something else, but then I lose. And I can’t lose, I can’t let these people win over me. I just can’t do it.

Rossi once had 499 permits and the biggest vending business in NYC. Jeenah Moon
Rossi once had 499 permits and the biggest vending business in NYC. Jeenah Moon

“I’ll drop dead before they beat me,” he said, referring to the city government, whose crackdown on street vendors in the 1990s robbed him of his once-mighty empire that boasted an armada of 499 carts.

That decade he would eventually be stripped of all but one permit — the very one he uses to peddle wieners today.

Rossi isn’t a local celeb just for his hot dogs or his unusual sleeping location — he’s long been an advocate for other veterans who make a living behind the city’s food trucks.

When he originally set up shop in front of the Met, Rossi cited a 19th-century law that allowed veterans to operate as street vendors in parts of the city others could not.

Inspired by his example, many other veterans started opening their own food carts.

Eventually, Rossi’s activism led to his 2009 arrest for disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic, which came as cops cracked down on vendors in front of the institution.

Rossi said he racked up some $50,000 in fines in a span of a few weeks in 2012.

If you ever had a hot dog outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you probably got it from Dan Rossi, who’s more colloquially known as The Hot Dog King. Jeenah Moon
If you ever had a hot dog outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you probably got it from Dan Rossi, who’s more colloquially known as The Hot Dog King. Jeenah Moon

In 2013, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that disabled vets could lawfully vend outside the storied museum because the park rangers who had ticketed them mistakenly cited a 1998 New York State law that governs goods, not food.

“They’ve been harassing us every day for so long,” Rossi told The Post at the time.

The suit had been brought by his daughter, Elizabeth, who served as a Marine reservist in Iraq — and vends alongside her dad outside the Met.

Rossi insists he was simply doing “what I had to do” while advocating for his fellow vets.

“When you look at it, the things I did, no one else would do,” Rossi told The Post. “You wouldn’t do it, you’d say it’s not worth it, but I did it because I have a right to do this, I have a right to do what I’m doing, I have a right to protect these other people who want to do the same thing.”

The Vietnam Marine veteran even got arrested for vending outside the Met in 2009, even though it was legal for him to do so. Rossi was often painted as the villain, something he talks extensively about in his memoir. Dan Brinzac
The Vietnam Marine veteran even got arrested for vending outside the Met in 2009, even though it was legal for him to do so. Rossi was often painted as the villain, something he talks extensively about in his memoir. Dan Brinzac
Most of his fans don’t know that part of the story. His biggest claim to fame: Sleeping in his van to protect his highly sought-after spot outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jeenah Moon
Most of his fans don’t know that part of the story. His biggest claim to fame: Sleeping in his van to protect his highly sought-after spot outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jeenah Moon
Although his fans love that he lives in a van, Rossi wishes his icon status would help him improve his current situation, where he only sees his ailing wife on Sundays when he returns home to the Bronx. Jeenah Moon
Although his fans love that he lives in a van, Rossi wishes his icon status would help him improve his current situation, where he only sees his ailing wife on Sundays when he returns home to the Bronx. Jeenah Moon

Although his fans love the kitsch-factor of Rossi’s van life, he says he hopes his icon status as the “Hot Dog King” will one day enable him to spend more time with his ailing wife.

Currently, the couple only sees each other on Sundays when he returns to their Bronx home to take her out to dinner.

He spends the other six nights of the week vigilantly protecting his territory from interlopers, usually getting dinner from a 7-Eleven.

Despite the difficulties of living apart from his wife, Rossi still has plenty of fight left in him and doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon — although he admits he might consider it at 90.

He says he doesn’t find the vending life a burden and tells The Post that he gets “a lot of enjoyment out of it.”

He admits it isn’t easy, however, and says he’s only taken one vacation in the four decades he’s been in business.

Rossi’s hot dog star status went viral in 2021 when the popular photo blog

.

After he went viral for being featured in “Humans of New York,” Rossi wrote a memoir. Jeenah Moon
After he went viral for being featured in “Humans of New York,” Rossi wrote a memoir. Jeenah Moon

“The next thing I know, there’s hundreds of people at the cart!” Rossi told The Post. “Literally hundreds of people! I said, ‘What’s going on here?’ There were guys stopping their cars and getting out to shake my hand, and I look at my daughter [Elizabeth] and she’s like, ‘Dad, you’re all over the place! They got you everywhere!’

The sudden fame led to his cousin suggesting he write a memoir about his life.

Rossi spent over a year writing it, enlisting the widow of a fellow disabled veteran to edit it for him. He admits he was perhaps a bit over-ambitious when he set out to put pen to paper.

“In my mind, I said, ‘I might do it in a week,'” he laughed. “That didn’t happen.”

After spending so much of his life fighting, both in Vietnam in his youth and in his dogged battle to protect his prized Manhattan vending turf, Rossi was eager for the chance to share his story with the world.

“I wanted them to know me.”

Additional reporting by Chris Nesi.