The Untold Truth Of Wienerschnitzel

Between all the different hamburger fast food restaurants out there, it can kind of be hard to keep track of which ones are open around you, much less what they serve and whether or not you actually like it. There's McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Shake Shack, and Five Guys, for instance. All of these, not to mention its many national and regional competitors, serve up some variation on the burger, fries, and a soft drink combo that's become a hallmark of the American fast food experience.

And then there are the chicken places! Consider the glut of franchises from Chick-fil-A, Popeyes, KFC, and Raising Canes, just to name some of the most obvious ones. Really, the list goes on and on. But there's one fast food chain that surprisingly doesn't center on hamburgers, fried chicken, or even french fries. Sure, they might be on the menu at this place, but at Wienerschnitzel, it's pretty obvious that the main focus is on the wiener. That is, Wienerschnitzel is all about the hot dog.

Wienerschnitzel has quite a few locations all across the United States, but if you've never eaten there, you might not know much about the chain. And in fact, the fast food chain is more than just hot dogs. Indeed, the history of the company might even surprise you. So, hang tight to learn more about the history, secrets, and the all-around untold truth of Wienerschnitzel.

Wienerschnitzel was founded in the 1960s

While Wienerschnitzel is still a recognized fast food chain, it's also pretty subtle. It's mostly stayed out of the fast food chicken war with other establishments, though it did quietly offer a chicken sandwich of a type back in 2017 (via Wienerschnitzel). Likewise, it doesn't have a ton of commercials and it's just not as ostentatious as other fast food places. So, it's understandable if you've never even heard of Wienerschnitzel, though the chain been around for quite a while.

According to the company's website, Wienerschnitzel was founded in 1961 when John Galardi opened the first location in Southern California. Interestingly enough, before Galardi opened Wienerschnitzel, he actually worked at a Taco Bell location and got the idea for his restaurant's name at a dinner hosted by the Taco Bell founder, per Wienerschnitzel. All told, Wienerschnitzel has been around for a fairly long time, at least in the world of American fast food. And while it might not be as widely recognized as other places now, you might ask your parents or grandparents if they went to one, as it was apparently quite popular back in the day.

The name came from a surprising source

To many, "Wienerschnitzel" sounds like a German name. And while Americans might think it's referring to a wiener (that is, a type of sausage or hot dog), that's not what the word traditionally means. According to National Geographic, a traditional "wiener schnitzel" is actually a thin veal cutlet that's been breaded and then fried. It's now widely acknowledged as a national dish of Austria, though it has origins in nearby Italy, too. 

So where did the franchise name for Wienerschnitzel come from? If it doesn't actually mean hot dogs, then why use it when your establishment serves just that? According to founder John Galardi's son, J. R. Galardi, the name suggestion actually came from Taco Bell founder Glen Bell's dinner party (via Wienerschnitzel). 

At the dinner, Galardi floated the idea of naming his new establishment "John's Hot Dogs." But then Bell's wife chimed in with "How about 'Der Wienerschnitzel'?" Galardi realized it might be a little out of place — he wanted to sell hot dogs and not pounded and fried veal cutlets — but he guessed that the foreign-sounding name would stick with American customers. And so, Der Wienerschnitzel was born, though the "Der" portion was eventually dropped.

Wienerschnitzel serves more than just weiners

Plainly put, Wienerschnitzel is famous for its weiners. Its hot dogs and corn dogs are especially beloved by fans of the establishment, making those menu items are some of the most popular orders of all. But that doesn't mean that the restaurant's menu stops there. On the contrary, Wienerschnitzel actually offers a lot of different food items for hungry customers.

The chain's year-round menu includes hot dogs and corn dogs, naturally enough, but also hamburgers, sandwiches, french fries, jalapeno poppers, dessert items, and even a breakfast menu. In addition, Wienerschnitzel is known to offer limited edition food items from time to time. For instance, in 2017, the chain decided to get more authentic and offer something approximating actual wiener schnitzels in the form of fried chicken sandwiches (still no veal, though). The sandwiches were only on the menu for a limited time, however, but clearly demonstrated that the restaurant is about more than just hot dogs.

Wienerschnitzel is famous for this sweet treat

Anyone who has ever been to a Wienerschnitzel in recent years knows that the chain also offers a pretty decent dessert menu. But what you might not know is that its desserts are distributed under a different name: Tastee-Freez. Wienerschnitzel actually started branding and advertising alongside Tastee-Freez in 1999, according to Funding Universe. In 2003, the Galardi Group bought Tastee-Freez and began offering its products in all the Wienerschnitzel locations. Once that happened, it's safe to assume that fans of Wienerschnitzel were likely pretty thrilled. After all, now they could enjoy a delicious frozen treat or drink along with their favorite hot dog.

The Tastee-Freez menu at Wienerschnitzel has changed a little over the years, but it remains pretty impressive. The menu includes soft serve, milkshakes, sundaes, soft serve floats, banana splits, and even a take on Dairy Queen's Blizzard, known as the Freezee. 

The chain leans hard on the nostalgia factor

While you may have never been to or even heard of a Wienerschnitzel until now, you can rest assured that the generation before you probably has. In fact, they might have quite a few fond memories of eating at a Wienerschnitzel when they were younger.

In 2015, J.R. Galardi, son of founder John Galardi, gave an interview to Wienerschnitzel about how he hoped to appeal to a younger consumer base, but acknowledged the power of culinary memory in retaining some of its most dedicated customers. He explained that most of Wienerschnitzel's customers were in their 40s and had grown up eating at the chain. More than that, Galardi added that there was a sense of sentimentality attached to Wienerschnitzel. 

"It's a very nostalgic brand," he said. "People always have stories about 'my dad took me there after little league' or 'my mom used to work there.' They keep going back because it brings back good memories." 

Wienerschnitzel was on this reality show

Obviously, Wienerschnitzel has been around for a while, but that doesn't mean the brand is done trying to stay relevant. In 2016, the CEO of Wienerschnitzel, Cindy Galardi Culpepper, wife of the late John Galardi, appeared on a very special episode of the reality show, "Undercover Boss." Culpepper was actually the 100th undercover boss on the series. The episode in question witnessed her working in Wienerschnitzel stores and learning how the ins and outs of the business worked from a more local level.

"Having the opportunity to interact with Wienerschnitzel crew members on such an intimate level was a truly humbling and life-changing experience," said Culpepper. "From mopping floors to assembling our famous chili cheese dogs, I worked alongside dedicated employees and learned their personal stories firsthand." Clearly, this allowed Culpepper to better understand the working environment for many Wienerschnitzel employees — and it appears to have been good fun.

Wienerschnitzel wants some locations to be tiny

Even though Wienerschnitzel has come a long way since it was founded, it's also had to make some changes over the years, from adjusting its menu quite a few times to various changes in leadership. And sometimes those changes produced surprising results. Specifically, in 2015, Wienerschnitzel announced that it would be opening more locations that were smaller than its typical store footprint.

According to QSR, Wienerschnitzel started to open what it called a "Heritage restaurant." It was framed as a callback to the A-frame shape of the original '60s restaurants, but also offered a convenient way to cut down on costs and visually stand out amongst a sea of boxy fast food franchises. The smaller design ranged from just 750 to 1,200 square feet and allowed some franchise locations to pop up in smaller, cheaper lots, with a significantly reduced construction cost. The even smaller "Express" model was designed to fit into a tiny 300 to 600 square foot space, intended for ultra-compact spots in places like airports and college campuses.

Wienerschnitzel is a family business

Wienerschnitzel started out as a family business, per Business Insider, and despite many changes over the years, the restaurant has still managed to remain one. After the original owner and founder John Galardi died, his wife, Cindy Galardi Culpepper, took over as CEO. Galardi's son, J.R. Galardi, is also involved in the business, too (via Wienerschnitzel). It's all something that the family takes pretty seriously, given their comments on the matter and commitment to the growth and vision of this fast food franchise stalwart.

In an interview with Wienerschnitzel, J.R. Galardi explained that he truly cared about Wienerschnitzel and wanted to help it grow. "I grew up with this brand, I have a passionate connection with it," he said. "It's a family legacy that I am excited to continue and build on. It's my responsibility to carry on my father's name in the business and I'm completely invested." 

You can get a beer at some Wienerschnitzel locations

When you think of a fast food restaurant, alcohol is probably the furthest thing from your mind. Well, unless drinking copious amounts of alcohol is what led to the thought of fast food, but that's a discussion for another time. Either way, it's unusual for a fast food joint to serve alcohol.

But Wienerschnitzel isn't like most fast food joints. J.R. Galardi actually noted that he grew up working at a Wienerschnitzel that served beer. "The Wienerschnitzel I worked at had a beer tap so I learned how to pour the perfect beer," he said. 

And if you're lucky, you might just find Wienerschnitzel serving beer or other alcohol, too. A review of the Beverly Hills, California location notes that various drinks were on tap there. "This is the first fast food restaurant that I have actually seen serving alcohol," the diner wrote. Not every Wienerschnitzel serves beer, but there's no denying the fact that beer is oftentimes the perfect drink to go with a delicious hot dog.

The company gives back in a unique way

Though Wienerschnitzel has seen plenty of success over the years and could easily rest on its fast food laurels, it still chooses to give back. And that return comes about mostly through charitable donations and employee time spent serving others. And while it's not completely shocking for a company like Wienerschnitzel to be involved with a charity and donate money to a variety of causes, given that so many other fast food franchises do just that, the way that the fast food chain chooses to give back is pretty unique all around.

In 2015, Wienerschnitzel partnered with Skate For Change for its Hot Dogs for Homeless Tour. The event featured a Wienerschnitzel-branded RV, known colorfully as the "Wienerbago," traveling across the United States to give out meals to homeless people in different city stops. "During the tour, we're committed to feeding as many homeless as possible, empowering students to do extraordinary things, and simply making a lasting impression on anyone we come across," ​​J.R. Galardi said. 

It wants to get into more retail spaces

Obviously, it's safe to assume that the first place you would go to when craving some Wienerschnitzel is to an actual Wienerschnitzel location. But what happens if there isn't one close by? Or when you just want to try your hand to make your favorite hot dog at home? And now some fast food chains, like Whataburger and Taco Bell, have started to sell certain items in grocery stores. That's something Wienerschnitzel hopes to accomplish as well.

Specifically, Wienerschnitzel hopes to get into more retail spaces like grocery stores, per Wienerschnitzel. So, it's started to come up with products consumers would actually want to buy at the store. In an interview with Nation's Restaurant News, J.R. Galardi explained that the restaurant had also begun to sell canned chili on its website for customers who want the concoction available at home. "We came up with a recipe [suitable for distribution by cans]. We make our chili fresh in the store," he explained. "This is pretty darn close." 

Wienerschnitzel plans to expand nationwide

As a fast food chain that has been around for decades, it would make sense that Wienerschnitzel would struggle some over the years. But, on the contrary, Wienerschnitzel actually has plans for expansion. It's has done quite well for itself, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as sales at Wienerschnitzel have recently gone up. 

"Achieving record sales despite disruptions in the supply chain shows how well we adapted and catered to our franchisees' needs during the pandemic," Ted Milburn, the restaurant's Director of Franchise Development, told Business Wire. "This is a unique moment where Wienerschnitzel and our iconic hot dog menu is extremely relevant and proving to be historically resilient." 

Because of that, and the fact that Wienerschnitzel sells upwards of 120 million hot dogs each year, the chain is looking to expand in certain key locations across the southern United States, the Midwest, and even some inroads in western states like Oregon.