Serving up Success
How David Littlefield '91 became New England's most famous "Sausage Guy"
by Noah Leavitt
He's called the "Sausage Guy" now, but he very easily could have been the "Boneless Buffalo Wings Guy."
It doesn't have quite the same ring, so maybe it's a good thing that the first post-graduation business venture of David Littlefield '91 didn't exactly work out as he expected.
It was 1993 and the management alum was working full-time as a salesman. But, he wanted to try something a little bit different.
"I had this hair-brained scheme to do boneless Buffalo wings at Foxboro Stadium (now Gillette Stadium)," Littlefield says. "We went through a big process, spent a lot of money on equipment. We got out there the first game and it was a complete and utter bust."
Then Littlefield did something that he's become familiar with-he adapted and changed his business model on the fly. The next week he traded in that fryolator for a steamer and made hot dogs. Two weeks later, Littlefield perfected the business model that launched his career.
"The Pats were then out of town for two weeks and everyone [had been] asking for sausages," Littlefield recalls. "So I went back to the fabricator and had them put a grill on the cart, and it cooked literally 12 sausages at a time. The rest is history. That's really where the name came from. I got to know the regulars and they'd say, ‘hey, sausage guy, what's going on?' because they didn't know my name."
Now, people know exactly who Littlefield is. Since 1996, his cart has been a fixture outside Fenway Park.
It's a job that has allowed Littlefield to rub elbows with Boston's sports stars and Hollywood "A-listers." He was even featured in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.
Not that Littlefield ever expected this level of fame.
"I've always just tried to just have fun. And as simple as sausage may be, we try to cook them with some attention and have fun doing it."
Of course, Littlefield's empire has extended well beyond the simple sausage sandwich.
On a sunny, unseasonably warm December day, we're sitting in one of Littlefield's two "Salsa's" Mexican restaurants. There's one location in South Boston, and this one, in Hingham, just minutes away from the home Littlefield shares with his wife Rosemary and their three children: 12-year old Jett, 10-year old Sawyer, and six-year old Grace.
When Littlefield talks about his family you understand what has driven his business success. "There's more at stake, your decisions have to
be more pragmatic and tactical then before," he says.
The "before" Littlefield refers to is the mid to late 90's when he would work long hours at his Three Clover pizza shop in South Boston (purchased with his "Sausage Guy" profits and since sold to new owners), then work into the early morning hours selling sausages outside Fenway Park, or nightclubs.
Then there was the 1999 MLB All-Star Game in Boston. Littlefield remembers working for a week straight-from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. with a quick nap in between shifts. Other nights he battled miserable weather, but refused to close.
"I remember my sister came by one night. I was on Lansdowne Street and it was raining sideways," Littlefield says. "My sister says, ‘Dave, go home.' I said I can't go home, I have bills to pay, I know I can make some money. That night it cleared up at 12:30. It was beautiful and I sold everything I had. It's the endurance. It's always a marathon-it's not a sprint. People say I hope you make it, and I say I don't have an option, I have to make it, I have too much at stake."
Littlefield has never really shown any interest in lowering his stakes. In 1998, he opened that first "Salsa's" in South Boston. It might seem like a strange place to open a Mexican restaurant. But, to Littlefield it made perfect sense from a business perspective.
"At the time in South Boston there was really nothing other than pizza shops, pubs and Chinese restaurants," Littlefield says. "That along with the fact that I always loved Mexican food really fueled the idea."
Just like his other ventures, Littlefield took steps to ensure his success. That included hiring Mexican native Maria Cidello as his Executive Chef, and giving her free reign to create a menu of tasty and authentic dishes. All the pieces for success were in place, but Littlefield still remembers opening that first "Salsa's" as a terrifying, but ultimately rewarding gamble.
"You transition from survival mode-starting your business to just running your business. The first year it was unbelievable," Littlefield says. "There was one day I almost walked to the door and locked it. I got half way through the dining room and said I can't do it, I have to stay open. When you're struggling to build something, in the moments of duress you can't do anything in that moment to change that moment. You need to live for another day."
Littlefield also knows how lucky he has been to have a supportive family along the way. In the early days he would often work around the clock, sometimes joined by his wife Rosemary after she finished her regular, full-time job.
"That really was a support that a guy like me, or anybody needs during moments as they grow a business and build a business. They need to have really supportive people around them and they need to have understanding people around them."
Littlefield is a businessman, but he is also a bit of a showman. That's clear to see when he steps behind the grill outside "Salsa's" and begins cooking up some sausages. He grabs his tongs (Littlefield claims he feels naked without them anytime he's next to the cart) and then the stories start flowing.
He recalls the time then-gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney visited his cart in the middle of the 2002 election.
Then there's the time Littlefield hauled his cart past security and up to the top floor of Boston's Federal Reserve Building.
He even reveals the injuries he's received over the years: a torn rotator cuff and tendinitis in his left elbow-the arm he always uses to cook his sausage.
"It was crazy. Opening Day [in 2012] for the first time in my life my arm was destroyed," Littlefield says. "For the first time if I had needed to go the next day, I couldn't go. I had ice packs on my arm for two or three days."
Littlefield doesn't tell that injury story looking for sympathy. It's just another remarkable experience in a life filled with them. He's always looking for
opportunities to grow and expand his horizons.
Littlefield had the chance to do that when he arrived at Curry College in 1987. He was here to play football- just minutes away from his hometown
"It was funny, I lived down the street, but I never went home. Now I drive that distance every day," Littlefield says. "But, at the time, it took me away from my world of Foxboro and brought me to a different place. And the experiences I had at Curry through friendships - they've been immense. Opened my horizons."
Littlefield says those experiences gave him a great foundation as he tried to start his own business. He'll be the first to tell you it wasn't easy-that it was even scary at times. But, he would urge other young entrepreneurs to take similar chances-urging them to have a laser-like focus on a goal, then go out and achieve it.
"You can get anything done if you make the commitment. No matter what you're doing, it's not about that moment, it's about that moment five years from now and where you want to be," Littlefield says. "Are you going to be watching people go by? Or are you going to be part of the process? It's endurance and perseverance to get there. It's unbelievable, whenever I have to pull my pants up and go somewhere when I'm beat...great
things happen. I really truly believe that if you're working hard for a goal and you want something that 90% of it is just showing up."
Things have become a bit easier for Littlefield in recent years, but that doesn't mean he has become complacent. He is adding more "Sausage Guy" carts every year, and is expanding his reach beyond the sports world. A growing trend is that couples will hire Littlefield and his team to feed guests after their wedding receptions.
"We swoop in at the end when everyone is hungry again," Littlefield says. "And it's a win-win because everyone gets to eat, and they're also
nostalgic about it. Everybody has a memory connected to a late-night bite."
But, you don't need to track down one of Littlefield's carts to get his famous sausage links. They're made in Connecticut, using a special blend of
meats and spices, and are now bein sold in stores around Massachusetts.
"The biggest excitement and challenge now is just trying to embrace what it [The Sausage Guy brand] has become," Littlefield says.
And, what it has become is one of the most famous food cart businesses in the country, serving up tens of thousands of pounds of sausage every year.
Littlefield may describe his fare as "simple," but he takes pride in it. Outside "Salsa's" he discusses the nuances of cooking the perfect link. Littlefield isn't behind the grill as much anymore, but he trains his employees to be patient so that the sausages get their trademark crispy exterior and a juicy interior.
But, how does "The Sausage Guy" like his sandwich? Loaded up with the grilled peppers and onions that he's famous for?
Littlefield admits he once went four years without eating a sausage. But, when he does have a sandwich, he likes to keep it simple.
"I'll open face grill it. Then hot sauce. That's it."
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