Winnipeg man opens hot dog cart after years-long battle with addiction, homelessness

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Winnipeg man opens hot dog cart after years-long battle with addiction, homelessness

Will Gault has endured his share of challenges over the past decade — including struggles with alcoholism and living on the street — but his new career is off to a hot start.

Gault's Willy Dogs hot dog cart opened for business this Monday, strategically positioned to lure in the lunch-hour crowd streaming in and out of St. Boniface Hospital.

Issues with alcoholism and addiction led to the end of Gault's previous career as a peace officer with the Manitoba government in 2011.

"I ended up on the streets of Winnipeg and lost everything," Gault says. "Rock bottom was losing everything. At the end of the day I was emotionally, financially and spiritually bankrupt."

He turned to Siloam Mission for a place to stay. He found stable housing for a time and the shelter provided him access to helpful resources, but his battle with substance abuse continued for a few more years.

In 2015, Gault moved to Brandon where he got help from the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, returning to Winnipeg that summer where he lived in a sober housing arrangement and "started a new journey."

"Shortly after that I met a beautiful lady who I am getting married to, we have a beautiful girl," Gault says.

'Very inspirational' story

Along with help he received from others along the way, Gault says his constant struggles motivated him to make a change.

"I had hope and not much else," he said. "The constantly feeling of rock bottom, the constant helplessness, and the guilt and shame that came with it, and just the fact that I wanted a new life and I didn't want to live like that anymore.

"Finding God was probably a part of that too — you know, reconnecting — and just making that decision to change my whole life and live in a new way of life."

Siloam Mission CEO Jim Bell said Gault has told his "very inspirational" story to current clients.

"We all need people to encourage and give a hand up when we're experiencing troubles in life ... and we see that every day," Bell said.

"But when we see people like Will progress, and really makes an effort, a tremendous effort, to battle the challenges that he had — and to see where he is today, as now an entrepreneur and a family man — [it's] just so good to see." 

Why hot dogs?

His new profession might not seem like an obvious choice to some, but it made perfect sense to Gault.

He loves to cook and had several years of flipping dogs under his belt before he made the decision to start his business.

In the late 1990s he started working at a hot dog cart his friend owned. He worked there for six or seven years, and recently worked with another friend doing the same thing.

His father-in-law and others helped him get the new business of the ground after months of scrimping and saving. They built the whole operation on their own, had it inspected and street-certified just in time for spring, Gault says.

"I trudged this road," he says. "Finally I own something."

Based on his busy first few days slinging hot dogs and making small talk with total strangers on the street, Gault already feels a sense of accomplishment.

"I'm a people person, and people love the food and like keeping them happy," he says as hot dogs sear on the grill and cars speed by his cart on Tache Avenue.  

"[It's] a business I've been passionate about on and off for years … and with the help of family it became reality."