For the past five years, students and staff alike have all found a reliable midday snack underneath the colorful umbrella at Campfire Grill, a hot dog stand that can be found at the western end of pedestrian walkway Monday through Friday.

But who is the man behind the franks?

Bill Thomas, a co-owner for the past five years, mainly operates the stand. Thomas was a plumbing contractor before he got his start in the hot dog stand and has not looked back since he changed careers.

"I most enjoy the interaction with the people, my goal is to brighten their day, it just makes for a more enjoyable experience," Thomas said as he slipped into an easy smile. "I love working with people, it is much better than crawling under sinks."

Thomas got into the hot dog stand business about five years ago when his contracting business started to slow down, forcing him into a part-time role. His son's stepfather, Jason Thurston, stepped in and introduced Thomas to the Campfire Grill company.

The main restaurant, located in Townsend, Tenn., has a five star rating on tripadvisor.com.

Thurston, the owner of the company, operates from Townsend while Thomas works mainly at the campus location.
Thomas said he attends local festivals, such as the recent Native American Flute Festival, with his stand and spends his weekends supplying food for the rest stop Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina. He said he enjoys the company of the students when he is on campus, and has slowly gotten to know many of them.

"The students here are very polite and enjoyable to be around," Thomas said. "I even get to hear what classes they're taking, and I like hearing their updates on their grades and what they want to do in life."

While he does not take any extra time when serving his customers, Thomas always seems to have time for a polite chat with those who come by,

Although the stand is still small enough to be packed into the back of a truck, its seemingly bottomless compartments offer efficiency to Thomas, who serves customers swiftly by pulling all manner of condiments from the endless storage.
He began coming on campus full-time at the start of the last spring semester, when he took a more active role in the operation of the stand as Thurston moved more into the restaurant.

The Campfire Grill hot dog stand can be found at the very end of Pedestrian Walkway behind the Clarence Brown Theatre Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Despite many students leaving campus for the summer, Thomas and his friend Jim Coleman, a piano technician for the Music Department, stay quite busy with many staff and faculty frequenting the stand, and now, many of the construction workers of the future Brown Residence Hall.

"Summer is usually slower, but the construction has really kept us alive," Thomas said. "In the summer it is a lot of staff and faculty, but in the fall we have mostly students."

Roger Hoover, the box office manager for the Clarence Brown Theatre and a loyal customer of the stand, also thoroughly enjoys the hot food and the convenience it offers.

"This is the best lunch on campus," Hoover said.