'Dog Days' Review: Loving Look at Entrepreneurs Battling D.C. Bureaucracy

'Dog Days' Review: Loving Look at Entrepreneurs Battling D.C. Bureaucracy

The documentary Dog Days chronicles an unlikely entrepreneur who squared off against the entrenched D.C. bureaucracy and lived to tell the tale.

Better yet, the film showcases how the American dream is alive and well even if local governments too often do all they can to squash it. It’s a classic tale told through two lovable characters, one a neophyte chef and the other a single mom who embraces hard work as passionately as she hugs her kids every day.

The film, the result of a successful campaign, will be screened at 11 a.m. Feb 4 and 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Young, optimistic Coite dreams of diversifying the kinds of food offered by D.C. hot dog vendors. He wants to build a business where he provides gourmet fare for any vendor around, helping them compete with the fancier food trucks entering the market place and expanding their customer base. 

Easier served than done.

Coite runs into a bureaucratic brick wall, learns too much about the tensions between restaurants and food truckers and finds that starting a food-base business requires a level of cleanliness that could break the banks of many start-ups.

Undaunted, he carries on, teaming with a cheery, East African immigrant named Siyone to change the way D.C. types eat.

The issues presented in the documentary have more layers than a Dagwood sandwich. Existing restaurants feel threatened by the influx of food trucks. Permits must be granted for more vendors to enter the market, but a moratorium on new permits handcuffs those start-ups. And will enough people really want to buy Coite’s jerk chicken sandwiches in the first place?

Dog Days nicely balances the nuts and bolts of the battles with the real people affected by the debate.

“Street vending matters. The lives of these people matter to me,” Coite says, and you don’t doubt him for a moment.

Directors Kasey Kirby and Laura Waters Hinson capture the patience, pride and hard work of people like Coite and Siyone, even if their vision that may not fit what others think will work. Their cameras capture the quiet moments of a day on the job, the scrubbing, the setbacks and the tiny victories that power us all until quitting time.

The film also pays tribute to a marriage where each partner supports the other, where immediate gratification doesn’t exist and faith in each other binds them together. Long story short–Coite married well.

Dog Days offers no rose-colored solutions or third act surprises befitting a Hollywood production. Instead, it doubles down on the ordinary folk who work so hard to feed capital dwellers. The documentary treats them with the respect they richly deserve and gives them a long-overdue close-up.