Vienna Beef celebrates 125 years of business in Chicago
Since the early days of Chicago, the city was a haven for immigrants. Between 1850-1860 40% of the city was German or Irish. By 1900, 1,000,000 out of a population of 1,698,575, was foreign-born.
Chicago is a city of immigrants and their descendants.
Immigrants made vast contributions to Chicago. Their contributions still weather the test of time. Ethnic cuisines were and still are a major contribution by Chicago’s immigrant population.
Chicago also has a long culinary history dating back to the 1850’s. This was due to the emergence of the city as the transportation, commodity trading, and meatpacking hub of the nation. People of commerce and industry flocked to Chicago to conduct business. They had to be fed and fed well.
Chicago had some of the first fine dining restaurants in the nation. They mostly were located in hotels. French and German chefs and waiters flocked to the city, staffing the hotel restaurants.
Ethnic cuisines, especially Italian, German, and Chinese were other forms of fine dining, as they were considered exotic.
This is a short list of Chicago food creations:
- The Brownie was created for Bertha Palmer by pastry chefs at the Palmer House hotel.
- The hamburger sandwich was sold to workers building the 1893 Exposition. The hamburger as we know it became a popular staple.
- Cracker Jack and Tootsie Roll are Chicago creations. At one point during the 20th century, Chicago was the candy making center of the country.
- Chicken ala King was created as a dish at the former College Inn Restaurant. Versions of the dish were around for years. The college Inn chef improved and named it.
- The Maxwell Street Polish with those aromatic grilled onions was created in Chicago.
- Hong Kong Steak, a long time dinner staple in Chinese restaurants, was created in Chicago.
- Frango Mints were created by Marshall Field and Company. They were made in the State Street store for decades.
- Chicken Vesuvio was created in Chicago, though who actually created it here is in dispute.
- Chicago deep dish pizza was created in the late 1940’s by a Jewish WWII veteran.
- Dove Bars were created by a South Side Greek ice cream parlor.
- The Chicago Italian beef sandwich is as iconic as the hot dog.
- Gyros, as we know it, was created in Chicago.
- Flaming saganaki served in Greek restaurants is a Chicago creation.
- Grant Achatz took molecular gastronomy to a higher level of achievement.
Two immigrants created something that is loved throughout the nation. In 1893, Austrian-Hungarian immigrants Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany unveiled their creation, the frankfurter, at the 1893 World Columbian exposition. The frankfurter was popular for fairgoers. Legend has it the frankfurter was called a hot dog or hot dog sandwich.
Reichel and Ladany capitalized on their success, opening Vienna Beef in 1894, supplying sausage products to thriving immigrant communities. The business grew and kept growing. Products were delivered in horse-drawn carriages. In the 1920’s they used a fleet of motorized vehicles to traverse the city delivering products.
The Chicago style hot dog, “Dragged through the garden,” was created during the Great Depression as a meal on a bun. The same is true for the Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich.
By the 1950’s Vienna Beef hot dogs, “Dragged through the garden,” were sold throughout Chicago and the metropolitan area.
The hot dog is as popular today as it was during the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. The Vienna Beef Hot Dog™ is an iconic food in this city. There are hot dog stands and carts in every neighborhood. Doug Sohn elevated the hot dog into a culinary delight with his Hot Doug’s hot dog stand.
Vienna Beef operates a Hot Dog University, teaching students how to successfully operate a hot dog cart. They also offer a course for those wanting to open a hot dog stand/restaurant.
Celebrating 125 years of business, Vienna Beef opened a hot dog museum in their Damen Avenue operation. July was National Hot Dog Month. On this last day of the month, I visited Vienna Beef and their museum.
The museum contains company relics from its earliest days, photos, advertising materials, and even a gold-plated Vienna Beef Hot Dog.™
Naturally, I had to eat lunch. Their restaurant makes fabulous sandwiches. Some appear to be gut busters. I celebrated with the special. Two Chicago style hot dogs, fries, and pop. For 7.99 you could not go wrong.
Vienna Beef sells fresh and frozen meat products and several other items from their various lines of business.
Congratulations Vienna Beef for 125 years of business in Chicago.
Below is a gallery of photos from the museum.