Tom Canty with a chili dog. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Tom Canty with a chili dog. Photo by Robert Eliason.

With all his varied interests and accomplishments, it is surprising that Toney Canty is able to contain himself within the confines of his food truck, Canty’s Kitchen. But the Hollister-based chef is content to serve up his homemade chili over hot dogs and hamburgers at events all over San Benito and Santa Clara counties. 

“I have owned multiple businesses in my time,” he said.  “But what I like about having the food truck is I am able to be creative, come up with ideas and implement them without having to go through someone else to get permission.”

Canty was raised in Alabama and earned an engineering degree from RETS Electronics Institute in Birmingham. Arriving in California in 1992, he found work with computer pioneers Cisco Systems, 3Com and UB Networks while competing in bull riding as a member of the California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association, a sport he had first taken up in Alabama.

“I grew up in the country around cows,” Canty said. “I used to like riding bucking horses, and I figured bulls would be a challenge because I used to be afraid of bulls. So I figured internally, if I ride one of those things, maybe it’ll get rid of my fear.”

His riding came to an end when he decided to change to a career in law enforcement. 

“When I got into the police academy, they kind of encouraged me to stop bull riding,” he said. “I figured if I had got injured, I probably would have gotten kicked right out of there.”

Canty worked during the day and attended the academy in the evening, graduating in 1996.

“I had never wanted to be a cop as a kid,” he said, “but as I got older, you know, I just figured it would be a nice career. I went into it, and I did pretty well.”

He served in East Palo Alto and Marina before retiring to become a ranger in Santa Cruz.

“I was a training officer for the rangers before they brought them over to the police department,” he said. “So, I ended up working for Santa Cruz Police for a couple of years.”

Somewhere in the midst of this, Canty took up playing the saxophone at local music spots, a throwback to his years in his high school band.  

“I used to sit in with a lot of bands around the Bay Area,” he said. “But I don’t have time to be in a band anymore, though I have the sax at home, and I pick it up and blow it every once in a while.” 

In 2020, Canty switched gears again and bought a food truck and, together with his partner Terry Konkle, opened T and T’s Kitchen, renamed Canty’s Kitchen when Konkle dropped out of the business a few months ago.

“Terry asked me if I would be interested in starting a hot dog cart,” he said. “Once we started looking into it, we realized that the cart wasn’t gonna do it for us.”

Beer battered onion rings. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Beer battered onion rings. Photo by Robert Eliason.

It took about a year to work out all the details, with Canty adapting recipes and cooking techniques that he learned in his family’s kitchens to the truck’s limited space.

“I knew how to cook already,” he said. “So that part wasn’t that big of a deal. But there were some things in the trailer that weren’t totally put together properly, and we had to do some modifications.” 

Canty began with hot dogs and hamburgers and has expanded the menu from there.
“I realized if we’re going to have hot dogs or hamburgers,” he said, “then we have to have french fries to go with it. And in Alabama, we use a lot of onion rings, so I just decided we had to have those, too.”

Chili Dog. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Chili Dog. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The chili, derived from his mother’s Alabama recipe, was a natural addition to the menu as well. Asked what is the secret of his chili, he merely responded, “It’s a secret,” with a little smile. “It’s partly the seasoning and partly just the process of cooking it,” he said. “But you have to start with good, fresh beef, that is the main thing. Then I just add my spices and seasoning in there, and I’m done. And that is all I am going to say.”

Open for only two years, Canty already has enough of a regular clientele in the area to consider opening a small restaurant and has been actively looking for a place. In the meantime, his truck can be found at the weekly Farmers Market, local wineries and sports events, as well as a regular stop at Dunneville Market, which he uses as his commercial kitchen. After all of his career moves, he is very happy in his current role as a chef.

“The customers are great,” he said. “I’ve met so many nice people doing this already, our customers and all the other food vendors. I’ve always been a people person, so I like it when the customers come and give us a chance. And I will always do my best for them.”

The Foods of Canty’s Kitchen

Beer-Battered Onion Rings – The onions are lightly coated with a beer batter that has a slight cornmeal flavor, then cooked to a nice golden brown crispiness. They are irresistible—I finished off an order of these without even noticing while I was looking for a place to sit and eat my chili dog. I am usually looking for some kind of sauce to use as a dip for my onion rings, but these have such great flavor that I enjoyed them as-is, with just a little salt. Canty also offers french fries, but I think the onion rings are a great choice.

The Chili Dog – Canty uses an eight-inch all-beef hot dog and piles on his mom’s chili to make about the sloppiest, tastiest chili dog you have ever had. A meat chili, there is not a lot of heat to it, which allows the rich mix of spices and herbs, particularly the chili powder, to come through nicely without overpowering the taste of the hot dog. Canty says he also makes chili with garlic and onion, and having tasted and enjoyed this chili, I would love to see that one on the menu as well. (Canty also offers a chili hamburger/cheeseburger, which can be ordered as a double.)

The Chili Slaw Dog – The trifecta: a beef hot dog, a generous amount of chili, and Canty’s coleslaw on top.  I love this coleslaw, which reminds me of my own family recipe. It has a dash of sweetness to balance the spices and a bit of coolness to contrast the heat. It is pretty much a full meal and is just a lot of fun to eat. To me, this is a perfect must-try—but be sure to grab a lot of napkins!    

Canty’s Kitchen (@cantyskitchen) can be found at the Hollister Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays as well as at the Dunneville Market on Sundays and Mondays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.    

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BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.