Steam billows in Kemi Bennings’ face as she places the carrots on the grill. Her partner, Tishona Miller, is at the front of their tent helping a student choose the perfect option of their delicacy, a vegan version of a classic American hot dog. Bennings serves up her specialty, “The ATL,” a carrot dog topped with mustard, vegan chili and slaw, and the student takes a bite and nods her approval. The dynamic duo comprise Carrot Dog, a Black, women-owned stand at the Emory Farmers Market that is widely popular among students.
Created in 2019, Carrot Dog first came to the Emory Farmers Market in February 2022. Bennings runs her small business with Miller and together they come to campus every Tuesday, often selling out. Outside of work, the two hold day jobs, with Miller working as an actress and Bennings serving as a full-time nurse and caretaker for her mother Shirley.
The stand offers four versions of their “classic dogs” at the Emory Farmers Market. The fan favorites include “The ATL” and “OG Dog,” both served with mustard, ketchup, relish and onions. On Saturdays, they take their stand to MET Atlanta in the West End where they serve up to 14 variations of their hot dogs, such as “Backyard BBQ” and “Southern Santa Fe.”
Bennings makes her carrot dogs with organic carrots soaked in a brine of 16 different spices to give it a smoky taste. After leaving the brine, the carrots roast on a grill to produce an outer crunch and soft interior that bites like a hot dog.
After trying one of their “classic dogs” for the first time, a shocked customer coined Carrot Dog’s slogan: “The Best Hot Dog You’ve Never Had!” which is proudly displayed on their tent.
However, Carrot Dog is more than just great food. Bennings said she hopes to use the company’s success to address food insecurity.
“I have an interest in public wellness and how to stay healthy,” Bennings said. “We wanted to bring something as familiar as a hot dog to underserved areas to at least put a stake in changing the food desert.”
Bennings started developing a recipe for her carrot dog in 2016 after first trying the vegan dish at Peace n’ Loaf Café in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After a couple years of tampering with types of carrots and combinations of spices in her kitchen, Bennings forgot about her carrot dog experiment completely. That is, until 2019, when Bennings and Miller attended a bonfire where someone boasted about their carrot dog.
“Tishona was like ‘I can’t eat anything like that,’ but I said, ‘No, don’t give up hope! Why don’t you try my carrot dog?’” Bennings said. “And, it was born again.”
Bennings started to make her carrot dogs again for Miller, who fell in love with the concept. Soon after, a farmers market in East Atlanta offered an opening to Bennings. She brought along her carrot dogs and Miller, and they launched their business.
“It’s always been a huge hit,” Miller said. “Of course, some people come up, and they think it’s a hot dog. When we tell them it’s a carrot, I’ll say, ‘But you got to give it a try.’ They’ll try it, and they fall in love with it. I did.”
Miller helps Bennings operate the business from food preparation to working their booth at the farmers markets that they attend. As a woman-owned small business, they said they have found a warm embrace from their communities at MET Atlanta and Emory.
“We’ve been accepted, completely accepted fully,” Miller said. “Everybody loves the fact that [Carrot Dog is] woman-owned and Black-owned.”
As business booms, Bennings and Miller said that they hope to find a permanent home with a kitchen to operate Carrot Dog as both a storefront and food truck. The couple often turns days of searching for a home for Carrot Dog into lunch dates.
“For me, the best part is just that I do get to work with [Bennings],” Miller said. “I get to be next to her, but we’ve also gotten closer too because we talk about the business. We both have a vision for the business, even though it’s hers, and she asks for my input and values it.”
Owning and operating a small business is grueling, Bennings said, but the couple takes off Tuesdays and Saturdays to work farmers markets together.
“Attracting spaces like Emory and being part of their program is all motivation to continue to put one foot in front of the other and to bring the mission of care to all,” Bennings said.
The tent is a site of good food and a good cause, and it also serves homage to Bennings’ mother.
In front of Bennings at the Carrot Dog tent, a rock sits on top of bags like a paper weight with a word written on its surface in sharpie: ‘Shirley.’
“She comes with us everywhere we go,” Bennings said.