'At 14, I'm the Youngest Person to Own a Restaurant in My State'

When I was a little younger, I was walking dogs, washing cars and mowing lawns in my neighborhood, to make money. Then, I went on a trip to New York City in 2015 with my sister and waited in a really long line for a hot dog. I probably had to wait in a line for ten minutes in Times Square, and all of the hot dog vendors had lines.

But when I got it, it didn't taste that good. So I told myself I could take this business concept back to Stonecrest near Atlanta. where I live. A couple of years later it was coming up to Christmas time, so I asked my mom, dad and grandfather if I could have a hot dog cart.

I got my first cart in 2017—it was a little, red electrical hot dog cart, and I would sell my hotdogs at family barbeques, birthday parties and events. I started off doing ketchup, mustard and chilli cheese dogs, they were very popular and I had a lot of attention but the cart could only hold about eight hot dogs at a time. I was selling them for $5 each and I was making maybe $200 a week, but I wanted to do more, so that's when I started wondering about getting a bigger New York-style hot dog cart.

I started saving my money up from my catering gigs and I bought a New York-style cart when I was 12 years old. It was a push cart that you actually had to push down the street and it was really heavy, but it could hold roughly 250 hot dogs. So that's when I started doing different types of hot dogs, like the "Donatello" and the "Venus" and "FIRE storm" dogs, but we still had our original "Mighty Dogs" and our "Chilli Cheese" dogs. The "Donatello" dog is a pizza dog, it's pizza sauce, parmesan cheese, pepperoni and mozzarella and the "Venus" dog is vegan, it has lettuce, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and chilli sauce. Each one of my super dogs are named after superheroes, because I love Marvel and DC Comics, and when I was in New York's Times Square I saw all the superheroes there. I came up with all the topping ideas myself. My mom will tell you that it got to a point where she did not want hot dogs any more!

I have some "big brothers" at Morehouse College in Atlanta who support me being an entrepreneur and one day in 2018, one of them called me and told me that they were having try-outs for the TV show Shark Tank on campus and that I should come and pitch my hot dog business. I was the only entrepreneurial kid who tried out and I got nervous and messed up. But then, as I was walking towards the campus bookstore, I saw the president of Morehouse College. My Morehouse big brothers had told me that he was the president, so I walked up and told him my business pitch as he was leaving the bookstore. After a little talk, we decided I could stay on his campus and serve my hot dogs on a Wednesday as long as I kept my school grades up. Students, professors and staff all bought my hot dogs and they loved them. They kept coming back for more, and many told me they wished I was there every day.

By early 2020 I had saved around $9,000 towards starting a restaurant. I went to my sister and told her I had saved up all my money from working at Morehouse and that I need someone to help me because I believed that if we started a restaurant we'd make money. My sister was 22 at the time, and she was crazy enough to use her savings and leased a property for my business near my house. It was an investment because we can now build Black generational wealth.

Hot Dogs, Young entrepreneur, young Black man
Hot Dogs, Young entrepreneur, young Black man

But my mom had no idea what was happening. She would have thought it was crazy. We sent her a picture with us holding some keys and my sister wrote, "Mom, I got Mason a restaurant!"

It was a long process though, it took around five months to get the place up and running. As soon as we got it, the next day we started working on it, it was really fun. The biggest problem we had was my age, people were saying that I was only 14 and that the restaurant should be in my sister's name. But she said that would be a lie because it was my restaurant. Eventually we got the city councilman involved and it took a while, but I got my name on the license and I became the youngest person in Georgia to own a restaurant.

I got help with my business plan from the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Atlanta. Mr. Hermann J. Russell is one of my inspirations, I want to be just like him, but unfortunately he passed away before I could meet him. I'd like to be the modern day Herman J Russell—I hope to earn that honor.

Hot Dogs, Young entrepreneur, young Black man
At 14, Mason Wright (left) is the youngest person in Georgia to own his own restaurant. Kathleen Nesbit-Wright

The opening day of Mason's Super Dogs on October 17 was fantastic, the line was really long, it stretched to the next parking lot and we were sold out by the end of the day. We're open Tuesday through Saturday and though business has slowed down a little with winter and the increase of COVID-19 cases, we're still doing takeout.

My day starts at 6am and until 10am I do my schooling and then at 11am we open the restaurant. I'm in the eighth grade but myself and my sister were home-schooled before the pandemic anyway. When I get here, I turn on the lights and set up the cash register. I start stirring the chilli, chop the chicken and steak and bake the beans, because we have 13 different hot dogs on the menu. Once that's all done I take inventory, put the hot dogs on the roller, set up the tater tots and wait for the customers. The restaurant is doing really well, we just started doing Uber Eats. In my neighborhood I am called the "King of Hot Dogs."

Hot Dogs, Young entrepreneur, young Black man
Mason Wright prepping food for his hot dogs inside Mason's Super Dogs in Stonecrest, Georgia. Kathleen Nesbit-Wright

I started introducing vegan hot dogs on the Morehouse campus, a lot of people were coming in from other colleges to have a Mason's super dog, and many of them were vegan. When I realized vegan foods were starting to pop off, I began to experiment. My mom isn't vegan so I had to get a new taste tester. My sister tried a lot of my vegan hot dogs! She still might be mad at me about that.

In 2019, PETA sent me a certificate saying my vegan hot dogs were number five in the nation—that was really cool. I'm guessing someone came to Morehouse College, tasted my vegan hot dogs and reviewed them.

My friends and family have said they're really proud of me, but they've also asked me how I can help them start their own businesses, because I've inspired them. I tell them to keep doing what they're doing and not give up. My friends and I have actually started a competition to see who has the better business by 2023. Whoever earns the most cash by a certain time wins this super cool trophy. On the first day of the competition we open and on our second day we group together and see who had the most success. They want to do candy and lemonade businesses, we're very competitive.

At the moment I'm saving up my money for something nice for my mom. I can't say what it is, but this December it's coming. In the future I want to go international and have my businesses in airports. I also want to take my mom on vacation and relax. I'd like to go to London and Canada.

It feels good to have achieved what I have, I feel a sense of pride.

Mason Wright is the founder and owner of Mason's Super Dogs, a restaurant in Stonecrest, Georgia. He has been selling hot dogs since 2017 and lives with his family in Stonecrest. You can find out more about Mason's Super Dogs here or follow Mason on Instagram @masonssuperdogs.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.