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Iconic Carpinteria ‘Hot Dog Man’ Bill Connell Dies at 61

Owner of ubiquitous Surf Dogs cart was a major supporter of disabled veterans

Bill Connell, whose Surf Dog food cart was a ubiquitous presence at the Carpinteria Bluffs, died Friday. He was remembered as an ardent supporter of disabled veterans.
Bill Connell, whose Surf Dog food cart was a ubiquitous presence at the Carpinteria Bluffs, died Friday. He was remembered as an ardent supporter of disabled veterans. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

Bill Connell, who died last week, was remembered Monday as a tenacious advocate for veterans, known as the presence behind the Surf Dog hot-dog stand in Carpinteria.

Connell was a ubiquitous presence at the Carpinteria Bluffs, where he could be found most days with his Surf Dog stand, peddling hot dogs and lunch items to hungry walkers and travelers passing through on nearby Highway 101.

Sheriff’s department officials confirmed that 61-year-old Connell was found deceased inside his residence on Friday.

“His death is not considered suspicious,” said Kelly Hoover, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Connell made headlines several years ago in his David-and-Goliath fight against the State Board of Equalization to enforce a law that had been on the books for more than 100 years.

Disabled veterans without a permanent place of business who peddle on the street are exempt from sales tax, and Connell pushed back for 16 years to make sure that the state regulators followed the law.

In 2009, Connell celebrated a major victory for veteran small business owners after a Senate bill was signed into law, ensuring the exemption.

Connell served in Germany during the Vietnam War, and was scheduled to rotate to Southeast Asia when the Paris peace talks started.

“I was very, very lucky,” he told Noozhawk in 2009, adding that some of his friends and classmates never came back. 

Some of Connell’s personal frustration was channeled into boxing, and he was eventually named heavyweight champion of Europe, which resulted in some hearing loss.

Connell told those in attendance that day at his victory celebration that there are veterans coming home now from combat who are injured — mentally and physically — and many end up unemployed or underemployed.

“This little bill will help all of them so they can start a small business and increase revenue streams,” he said. “It makes a man feel really good if he can go out and make a living.”

Former Assemblyman Pedro Nava said at the time that what Connell had done was “remarkable.”

“Shame on us if we ever turn our back on the men and women who honored their commitments. All he was trying to do was get the law that was enforced on the books. ... He never backed down,” Nava said.

Carpinteria Mayor Gregg Carty adjourned the city's council meeting Monday night in memory of Connell.

"Just about any volunteer project in Carpinteria, Bill was there to feed everybody with his hotdog cart," Carty recalled. "He was always trying to do what was right for our veterans.  He was constantly going to Sacramento to see what he could do... Bill will be greatly missed."

Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal remembered Monday meeting Connell while working as an aide for then-supervisor Naomi Schwartz in 1994.

“He wanted to make sure that local governments were also interpreting the law in such a way that disabled veterans were getting their rightful benefits,” Carbajal recalled.

Carbajal, who is also a veteran, said he and Connell developed “a good friendship” after that.

The supervisor fondly remembered a family tradition during the annual holiday drive down to see relatives in Los Angeles, when his family would take a break from travel to have lunch at the Surf Dog stand.

“It was just a chance to catch up with a friend,” he recalled.

Because of Connell’s fight, hundreds of veterans have gotten the justice and benefits they deserve, he said.

“I will miss him as a person, as a fellow veteran and as a champion for veterans,” he said. “He was tenacious, passionate, committed and just a great, great human being. He’s a good role model for everyone who takes on the system.”

Information on services for Connell was not available on Monday.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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