The Untold Truth Of Vienna Beef Hot Dogs

There are many different types of hot dogs, ranging from unsavory fast food dogs to various strange hot dog creations around the world. It depends on the individual which particular style is the greatest, but you can rest assured that the Chicago-style hot dog is always in the mix when hot dog supremacy is discussed. The preferred sausage-themed delicacy of the Windy City is known for its delicious poppy seed bun, its "dragged through the garden" approach to toppings, and a strong aversion to ketchup – as well as, more often than not, a Vienna Beef sausage.

It's no accident that the famed Chicago-style dog is usually built around a delicious Vienna Beef hot dog. The sausage, as well as the company manufacturing it, has a long and storied history, which has cemented their place in the annals of history. Let's take a look at the untold truth of Vienna Beef hot dogs.

The origins of Vienna Beef hot dogs

The Vienna Sausage Manufacturing Company was unleashed upon the unwary world at the Columbian Exposition and World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. A year later, its founders – two Austrian-Hungarian immigrants called Samuel Ladany and Emil Reichel – opened their first store, and their product was such a huge hit that over the next decades, the company expanded and its influence spread like wildfire. 

Per Chicago Mag, the name of the company was no fluke, as its founders had indeed learned their craft in Vienna, the capital of Austria. The signature "beef" part of both the name and their product came from the fact that the pair were Jewish, and as such, steered away from using pork. Their product proved to be an absolute winner, but little did they know that their sausages were about to enter the annals of food history, thanks to their association with Chicago's famous hot dog. 

In fact, the two concepts are so intertwined that an estimated 90 percent of all Chicago's hot dog stands use Vienna Beef sausages. 

The rise of the Chicago hot dog

Vienna Beef didn't actually create the famous Chicago-style hot dog, but their product did make a great centerpiece for the city's arguably most famous culinary institution (sorry, deep-dish pizza). According to Dining Chicago, there are various stories about the birth of the legend, but the generally accepted account is that the current form of the delicacy got its start in 1929. This was the time of the Great Depression, and both jobs and money were hard to come by. Abe "Fluky" Drexler, a son of a greengrocer, solved both problems when he converted a vegetable cart into a hot dog stand and started selling an item he called the Depression Sandwich – a spin on the sausage-on-a-bun that was laden high with vegetables and seasoned with celery salt. 

This messy, yet delicious "banquet on a bun" approach cost only a nickel, and it was so alluring to people that before you could say "no ketchup," other aspiring hot dog salesmen started getting in on the action. Meanwhile, Vienna Beef sausages were well on their way to the position as the Windy City's favorite fast food meat product.

Henry Davis, the man behind turning Vienna Beef into a hot dog stand institution

Every successful company has a number of pivotal people who helped them turn from a scrappy up-and-comer into a juggernaut of their industry. In a 2018 post on the Vienna Beef Facebook page, the company celebrated one of their most important figures, Henry Davis. "Henry Davis, a longtime Vienna Beef salesman, is known as the 'Father of the Modern Hot Dog Stand,'" the post said. "He is single-handedly credited with opening hundreds of Vienna branded stands during the 1940s and 1950s. Henry would loan money to customers and give them signs that help advertise both the customer's restaurant and Vienna Beef!"

Creating the hot dog stand that modern consumers know and love is an accomplishment unto itself. Even more importantly, for a company that dealt in a product so intertwined with the Great Depression, being such an understanding and helpful business associate must've been a lifesaver to many a restaurant owner. This kind of goodwill must've been pretty good for Vienna Beef's business. In fact, in a 2016 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Vienna Beef CEO Jim Bodman outright said that while their sausages are superior to the competition, the company's positive associations in the minds of the public are indeed its most valuable asset. When asked what makes a Chicago hot dog the best one out there, Bodman simply stated: "Memories."