As if we didn’t have enough evidence that End Days are here, what with the United States of America becoming a Third World country closed off from the rest of the world (albeit a "Great" Third World country), brothers fighting against brothers via sharp Facebook ripostes, potty-mouthed Karens abusing store clerks wholesale, and a nasty virus that has brought us all to our knees – try this news on for size: the Vienna Beef Factory Store at Damen and Fullerton has closed its doors on July 1.
One hundred and twenty-seven years after Austrian-Hungarian immigrants Emil Reichl and Sam Ladany sold their snappy, all-beef hot dogs from a street cart at the 1893 World's Fair, officially naming their fledgling company Vienna Beef, the store is closed. Hell, the store itself has been there 50 years.
With it, Hot Dog University, which taught many new hot dog stand entrepreneurs how to start their own hot dog business with fine instruction from Professor Mark Reitman, has also closed. With hot dogs, there is no distance learning.
And now, I kick myself for not having taken Mr. Reitman up on his offer a few years back to front me tuition for taking the class as part of the edification of Hot Dog Diaries.
At the time, I was considering getting a cart and selling Vienna Beef char dogs on Myrtle Beach, under a tiki umbrella that I went so far as to price out at Amazon. I’d even pair the beautifully charred dogs with Tiki Punch for a great sweet and savory treat.
Vienna Beef would be my import partner – I’d get the neon green relish, the dogs, the buns, the celery salt, and whatever else I could from them. In time, I’d be inducted into the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame, like Franksville Station. I could almost see Mr. Reitman beaming like Mr. Chips at the ceremony.
I even had a name: Tiki Hut Dogs. Get it?
But Myrtle Beach is closed, and now, so is the Vienna Beef Store and Factory.
What will be going up in its place? A golf driving range named Drive Shack. I have nothing against golf. I played on my high school and college team all four years, although the Elmhurst College Blue Jays were never much of a threat to the boys from Augustana.
In college, the coach reserved a bucket of balls for you at the local driving range every day, and you’d have to sign for them and hit them or explain why you missed it. We’re talking a large bucket, too. College was tough.
I gave up my Tiki Hut Dog dream, I guess. I retired to Michigan, which also has some fine beaches and plenty of people that might enjoy a Chicago char dog as part of their summer weekend in New Buffalo. But I kind of dreaded the dog and pony show you’d have to go through to appease local City Councils for approval, plus the start-up costs themselves would not be insignificant.
Not to mention having to get up in the morning to chop onions and then schlepping your stuff over to set up on a beach without having the local food trucks get irate with me. I’m a peace-loving man. Part of that is being a quiet-loving man, too.
There is too much noise out there now. Everybody seems upset, and everybody seems completely on their own, adrift in a restaurant-less sea.
When Golden Weenie winner Bill Murphy closed his doors a few years ago, I nearly wept. I knew I had lost something. Life is a casting off, as Linda Loman tells Willy in “Death of a Salesman.” But you never realize how true that is until you retire and see your favorite places close down and the walls kind of close in around you.
Bright spot: You can still go to the Vienna Beef Factory in Bridgeview – not the same.
Or you can order a hot dog at the new driving range. It’s described as “upscale,” so good luck.
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