Nathan Duszynski and his parents never imagined the firestorm his story would create. 

Their concerns right now deal with more basic matters, such as where they will stay the night or whether Nathan will break even from his next hot dog gig. This was not the way they thought it would turn out. Their hope was that Nathan could get a jump-start on his hot dog business during the idle summer months before school.

That was, until the city of Holland shut down his hot dog cart 10 minutes after he opened for business. The cart was on the edge of the city’s C-3 Commercial District, where food carts not connected to brick-and-mortar restaurants are prohibited. Nathan had a deal to operate the cart in the private parking lot of a downtown sporting goods retailer.

It was a perfect deal for both:  The retailer thought the hot dogs could bring in more customer traffic, and he agreed to give Nathan a commission on bikes that he rented due to the draw of the hot dog cart. Nathan and his parents also had a permanent place to store and set up his cart, no small matter given that it weighs 800 pounds. 

Nathan and his family reached deep into their pockets to make the initial investment. The cart, the food and the permits topped $3,000. When the city told Nathan he could not operate his cart, he had no choice but to sell it. The sale became the first of several breaks Nathan would get from a sympathetic public. A local company, Shoreline Container, bought the cart and said Nathan could use it for future catering jobs. Nathan has had two jobs since then, but he barely broke even because the events require a $200 permit from the county health department, which is only good for 14 days.

Part of Nathan’s problem has been his family’s desperate situation. Nathan’s mother, Lynette Johnson, has epilepsy and is prone to seizures. His stepfather, Doug Johnson, has multiple sclerosis. They are homeless and living on modest disability payments. Doug is a paralegal and was working with the Michigan Rehabilitation Services, but lost his job after funding for the program was cut.

Running out of options on where to stay, the family decided last week to seek living accommodations in a shelter. The arrangement has been far from perfect. Doug is unable to stay in the facility because of the prescription pain narcotics he takes for his MS. The family manages to meet up during the day, usually at the library or coffee shops where there is free Internet. 

Life in the shelter has taken some adjustment. Lynette and Nathan are required to participate in structured programs, and they must leave the facility at certain times. They have little privacy. Neither of them wants to be there. Doug and Lynette want to be off disability, and Nathan says he just wants the freedom to run his business so he can help the family in whatever way he can.

Nathan and his parents are taking it one day at a time, but have a hard time believing their circumstances.

“All he wanted to do was sell hot dogs,” Lynette said. 

(Editor's note: Since the posting of this video, Doug Johnson, stepfather of Nathan Duszynski, has been arrested.)