Hot dog vendor allowed back at Westborn Mall

DEARBORN — Sometimes what appears to be a simple business decision turns out not to be that simple at all — especially if you’re unaware of how it impacts others in a community like Dearborn.

That’s exactly what Westborn Mall owner Tom Petzold learned after he asked Anna Ford, owner of the hot dog cart in the shopping center’s parking lot, to leave. Then he heard and read a wide array of comments from loyal Westborn shoppers on blogs, Facebook and other media.

“This has really opened my eyes,” said Petzold, whose family has managed Westborn Mall for more than 40 years. “I never intended to break the good will we have been striving for many decades to build in this community.”

Realizing that his decision was affecting shoppers and tenants including Red Olive, the new restaurant that took the most criticism, Petzold decided he had to act.

He called Red Olive owner Pete Goulas to talk about a possible solution. Both their companies had made investments to bring the family restaurant to Dearborn.

To satisfy the shopping center’s customers who missed Ford’s hot dog cart, Petzold then called Ford with his idea. He knew her to be an astute business woman from their temporary rent free agreement set up two years earlier when the hot dog cart first came to the shopping center’s parking lot.

“I asked Anna if she’d be willing to bring the hot dog cart back to the parking lot and pay a nominal rent that Westborn Mall would donate to local charities that she designated,” Petzold said.

Ford, a lifelong Dearborn resident, readily agreed and designated both the Dearborn Historical Museum and the Dearborn Animal Shelter as recipients.

“This is a very fair agreement that benefits everyone involved,” said Ford, who had declined comments to the media about the situation. “We’re all in business together to serve this community. I know my customers will be especially glad to help these two deserving and well respected non-profits in Dearborn.”

Recently, Petzold and Ford met with Goulas to talk about their recent experience and to build good will for the long term.

Petzold acknowledged he learned a lot from shoppers’ reactions and said, “My dad always taught me to think long term, not short term, which is why the average life of tenants in our commercial properties is 25 years.”

Petzold said one reason he enjoys his business is that through ongoing reinvestment in the properties, it creates job opportunities in Michigan. With the recent addition of Red Olive and its next door neighbor, Sun Nail salon, Westborn Mall is fully leased.

Goulas shared that his Dearborn restaurant employs nearly 30 people, 90 percent of whom live in Dearborn. A native of Greece, Goulas has lived in Michigan for 30 years — working in the restaurant business and opening his first Red Olive in Livonia six years ago.

When asked why Red Olive chose Westborn Mall, Goulas said he had been a long-time customer of the local Staples and always liked that there was an enclosed mall to keep shoppers warm during the winter.

Petzold shared that his company had been seeking, in response to customer input, a family restaurant for the shopping center since 1994.

“After I visited their restaurants, met their staff and saw how much they enjoyed working for Red Olive, I knew they were the right fit,” Petzold said.

Ford’s hot dog cart is back in the Westborn Mall parking lot with signage that let customers know how their loyalty is helping to benefit two non-profits.

Petzold, Goulas and Ford agree that they’ve created a win for each of their businesses and a home run for the Dearborn community.