Last week, I blogged about the end of the world surely being upon us, since the Vienna Beef Factory and Store closed its doors. While the store and restaurant did indeed close at their current location, the Vienna Beef company is still very much around and so is Hot Dog Univeristy – in fact, they are thriving in these Covid-19 times.
I had an opportunity to speak with Hot Dog University Professor Mark Reitman, PHD (Professor of Hot Dogs), recently, and he spoke about enrollments being on the upswing – what with a deep discount on tuition for distance learning, and people reinventing themselves in the hot dog business.
“Depression Dogs” became a great, cheap meal in the Thirties – and now the skids are being greased for the same need, especially for Americans. Vienna thrived then. They are thriving again.
“We’re way busier now than we were before,” Reitman said. “We were very lucky that we had no layoffs and no sickness, and we’re in a new building at the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, on 2501 W. Fulton Street, and things are going well.”
Ah, what a sense of relief this was. But what about the old restaurant in the store? Reitman simply pointed out that there are 600 carts and 400 restaurant trailers serving Vienna Beef hot dogs. If you’re in Chicago (and even out of town) there are places you can get your fix and your fill of the juicy and snappy. The 40,000 square foot property on Fulton will be more than enough space to keep producing Chicago’s most beloved and historic dog.
How has the hot dog business adjusted with Covid-19 in the picture? In some rather creative ways, as it turns out. Apart from people taking the vacuous Ivanka Trump’s “Let Them Eat Cake” style edict to “Find Something New,” some go-getters are doing just that, by enrolling in Hot Dog University.
Reitman provides learning modules that students can do remotely. You get the shirt, the hat, and the apron, as well as a series of videos and some hard-to-come-by inside information on cart setup and operations. It all can be yours as a student at Hot Dog University, backed by a very supportive Vienna Beef structure. Reitman compares it to “getting a franchise without paying a franchise fee.”
One recent grad of Hot Dog University noticed a lot full of truckers at rest stops. She set up a drive-up hot dog business there. Truckers are usually good for purchasing multiple dogs, and they have the benefit of not having to look for truck stops that are shut down. They have begun to look for the food truck and plan for lunch there.
Another enterprising hot dog trailer owner set up shop near a stream of cars waiting to get tested for Covid-19. This has also proven to be successful. It’s American ingenuity at its most basic – find a need and meet it, just like the early purveyors. It’s an idea catching on nationally. Reitman recently offered the course of instruction in Florida.
As we propel headlong into a major recession and probably another major depression, what better time could there be to bring back the classic “Depression Dog?”
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