CAPE ELIZABETH — Five weeks ahead of last year, South Portland resident Frank Marston said he is already meeting customers from around the world at Fort Williams Park.
“I met folks from Luxembourg this morning,” Marston said Monday as he sold hot dogs from his cart near Portland Head Light.
Marston and his wife, Debbie, operate Frank’s Franks practically in the shadow of lighthouse. The couple holds one of four park vendor licenses.
Technically, the licenses are in effect from May 1 through Oct. 31, but Town Council permission to open early is making a profitable difference for the Marstons and Bite Into Maine owners Karl and Sarah Sutton.
“We are trying to do at least weekends in April, ” Karl Sutton said about his sales of lobster rolls, baked beans, clam chowder and other Maine-based foods.
The Suttons and Marstons held two of the five licenses granted last year. They are joined by Atlantic Cookie Co. owner Carl Dittrich in returning to the 90-acre park for a second season.
Portland based-Gorgeous Gelato, owned by Donato Giovine and Mariagrazia Zanardi, is the vending newcomer in the park. The gelato cart will occupy a spot near Ship Cove Beach.
The vending policy was changed to create the new vending spot and eliminate the partial-season licenses granted to vendors on Captain Strout Circle last year.
Dittrich said he had planned to start selling his cookies, lobster rolls and beverages this Sunday, but the weather forecast looked unfavorable.
“The next sunny day, I’ll be out there,” he said. His spot is across the traffic circle from Frank’s Franks at the lighthouse.
Giovine said he is waiting for his gelato cart to arrive from an Italian manufacturer.
“We are hoping to start in three weeks,” he said.
Sites for the Marstons and Suttons have changed this year, with Frank’s Franks closer to Captain Strout Circle and the Suttons across the park access road from the bluff above Portland Head Light.
“It will be better when the buses come in,” Marston said. Last year, his license expired Aug 31. This year, he is already checking the autumn cruise ship schedule for Portland, since the park is a draw for passengers.
Sarah Sutton said the move has its advantages for Bite Into Maine, too.
“We actually really like our new location quite a bit,” she said. “It is not as windy.”
The Suttons operated with a full-season license last year, and they said repeat customers were a big part of their trade.
“We get the sense people expect us to be here,” Sutton said.
Early sales this year were so strong the couple sold out of lobster rolls before Patriots’ Day. A year ago, they and the Marstons were not yet open for business.
“Today would have been a really great day, we just had to restock and resupply,” Sutton said Monday.
The Suttons and Marstons are offering new items this year, with beans and chowder on the Bite Into Maine menu and a jumbo hot dog and meatball and chicken marina subs now part of Frank’s offerings.
Marston and Sarah Sutton said their businesses continue to be canine-friendly, too.
“I’ve already given away a box of Milk Bones,” Marston said.
Locations spread through the park can mean a different customer base. Marston said he enjoys visits from bus tourists who don’t always walk up the hill toward the parade grounds, where the Suttons work.
Karl Sutton said some customers have come right from the Portland Jetport, and being close to the access road is a good position.
“People can still see us easily when they come in,” he said.
Sarah Sutton said late summer and early fall were lucrative last year, and also led to outside catering jobs.
“We get to work looking out at the ocean every day,” she said. “We always joke about the location we get to work in and people are always in a good mood.”
Regardless of how well the vendors do, and despite one fewer license holder, the second year of the program will be more profitable to the town, which earned more than $11,000 from the licenses last year.
This year, the four vendor licenses will generate almost $16,000, according to council records.
Portland resident Dane Wong, right, buys a jumbo dog this week from Frank Marston, who is in his second year selling hot dogs near Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth.
Frank Marston, right, serves up a hot dog for South Portland resident Pat Dugas and Dugas’ son, Owen, at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth on Monday. Marston said he had a five-week head start on sales this year.