I really don’t even know where to start.
I was invited to the Vienna Beef Headquarters and Factory Store to be in the small (miniscule, actually: there were about eight of us!) blogger audience for a broadcasting of Chicagonista Live, with my Social RevUp partner MJ Tam, BBRadio hostess Beth Rosen, and the other two CL ladies, Nancy Loo (Big Tiny) and Duong Sheehan.
The experience was set up to be really fun: we would meet some of the folks from Vienna Beef while enjoying some Chicago hot dogs (THE Chicago hot dogs, actually: Vienna Beef hot dogs were first introduced at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, otherwise known as the Chicago World’s Fair), and then we’d tweet while watching the show.
I was really, really excited about this opportunity because I like to let my Chicago flag fly now and then (ya think?), and being invited to an event at Vienna Beef had me completely geeking out.
Here are two fun facts about Chicago hot dogs, by the way, that I got from www.hotdogchicagostyle.com:
~ In Chicago, more than 80% of the hot dog vendors proudly feature Vienna® Beef products. Vienna is often considered the Rolls-Royce of Hot Dogs.
~ Travelers passing through Chicago’s O’Hare airport purchase 2 million Hot Dogs each year according to restaurant and concession stand reports. This makes O’hare the biggest Hot Dog seller in the United States.
Fun facts from the Vienna Beef site:
~ Making your hot dog Chicago-style is also known as “dragging it through the garden”. The condiments that go on a proper Chicago dog are yellow mustard, chopped onion, green relish, tomato wedges, pickle spear, celery salt (VERY IMPORTANT!), and sport peppers. Of course, your Vienna Beef hot dog should be placed inside a poppy seed bun before putting all of that stuff on it. You’ll notice that ketchup is not listed. NEVER put ketchup on a Chicago dog. NEVER.
~ July 20 is National Hot Dog Day.
~ Every second of every day, 450 hot dogs are consumed in the United States.
~ Vienna Beef headquarters gives small (6 people) tours once each week, and they are booked through Winter of 2014!
We thoroughly enjoyed lunch. That was no surprise. I mean, what’s not to enjoy?
By the way, if you don’t live in Chicago and you’re all, “Wah Wah Wah! I don’t live in Chicago! I can’t GET a Chicago hot dog where I live!” you might be wrong. Vienna Beef has a “Dog Finder” on their website, which you can use to see if there are any hot dog places in your state that use Vienna Beef products.
After we ate lunch, the show began. I have to admit, it was really, really hard to try and stay professional when there were all kinds of wiener jokes being cracked across our table, and the ladies on the show were saying things that our minds–which had reverted to the maturity of twelve year old kids–just couldn’t process properly without laughing. In fact, I would *LOVE* to give you examples of these jokes and even though I know that the folks at Vienna Beef have great senses of humor, the level of extreme professionalism I try to uphold (are you laughing yet?) prevents me from sharing. Also, Vienna Beef is just starting to delve into blogger involvement and I don’t want to make them run in the other direction.
So. The show? GREAT. We learned that there are more than 2,000 hot dog stands in the Chicago area. We learned that Vienna Beef has a free Locator app for iPhone and Android users that will use your location to tell you where the closest Vienna Beef-serving restaurants are. I downloaded it immediately and decided to test it out, which resulted in this gem of a tweet:
Tom Pierce, Director of Marketing at Vienna Beef, was a guest on the show (along with Carrie and Julie, the ladies who do a great job running the Vienna Beef Facebook and Twitter pages), and I was really struck by his humble attitude. I mean, it would be really easy for someone who works at the place that creates the quintessential Chicago hot dog to be very conceited and matter-of-fact that their product is way better than the competition, but Tom really impressed me by talking about how they just try to do the best job they can, that taste is relative, and they are just happy to have so many fans. I also have to add that Tom has worked at the company for years (many of the employees are long-term: that says something!), and although during our event Tom wasn’t really sure what to think about us bloggers, he was so kind and funny, and was really open to talking with us to learn more about what we do. I know that many companies have trouble getting started in using social media because they aren’t really sure of the point, what it can do for the company, or how much value today’s consumer places on actual real-time customer interaction. I really admire Vienna Beef for dipping their foot in and getting started because it says a lot that they want to keep doing what they’re doing “at home” while reaching out to their customers at the same time.
The Vienna Beef Factory Store is pretty cool in itself. I took some pictures to share with you, but hopefully you’ll stop in sometime very soon if you’re in the area!
If you ever need to know what time it is ANYWHERE in Chicago (north side, loop, lake front, or south side), Vienna Beef has a clock for you.
You can get cases of all the Vienna Beef products to take home, and by the way that’s not just hot dogs. Vienna Beef makes Italian beef, Polish sausage, Corn dogs, Bagel dogs, and lots more.
The Factory Store also has a grill counter. This is where the employees eat but it’s also open to the public.
Here’s what it looks like from the outside. It’s located at the intersection of Damen, Elston, and Fullerton.
By the way, look for the Vienna Beef MINI Cooper, appearing on a street near you!
So, now I’m exhausted from writing this recap and hungry for hot dogs all over again. I want to thank everyone at Vienna Beef for being so wonderful to us yesterday: I was already a hardcore fan but really, now I’m beyond that. If you don’t live in the Chicago area, check out that Dog Finder so you too can taste the goodness that is Vienna Beef (or you COULD order something shipped from their website…)!
Disclosure: I was provided lunch and a couple of gifts at Vienna Beef during this experience, including a $5 gift certificate to the Factory Store that I promptly used towards the case of dogs I bought to take home. I was not asked to write a post about Vienna Beef, but I know they appreciate it and really, how could I keep my Chicago card and NOT write about them after my day there? All words and opinions are mine.