In this 2006 photo, a worker guides a rack of natural-casing hot dogs along the assembly line at the Vienna Beef plant. (Al Podgorski~Sun-Times)
Updated: August 29, 2011 12:12PM
Vienna Beef may be the first name in Chicago hot dogs, but the city boasts quite a few frankfurter producers (listed here from oldest to newest). National Hot Dog Month gives you a good excuse to seek them out.
Vienna Beef still cooks frankfurters in small batches in smokehouses, much the same way the company founders did when they introduced their wieners at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Their primary supermarket product is skinless all-beef franks. You can find their natural-casing wieners in the deli cases of some independent markets, online at viennabeef.com and at the factory store, 2501 N. Damen. Vienna offers plant tours, but they’re booked through summer 2012.
In 1992, Vienna acquired the David Berg brand, dating to 1860. While Vienna still makes the all-beef franks, seasoned according to the original recipe, the company doesn’t push the label and distribution seems minimal; however, you can buy them at the factory store.
Makowski’s Real Sausage Co., 2710 S. Poplar, originated in 1920 as Victory Sausage, a small butcher shop in central Wisconsin. Expanding with a Chicago factory at Ashland and 35th Street in 1932, they made lunchmeat and sausages for the U.S. Army and, in 1935, acquired the bankrupt Real Sausage Co.
Today, the fourth generation of the family, Nicole C. Makowski and her sister, Danielle, run the company. They make a variety of custom and private-label sausages, especially game meats, and until recently the acclaimed Corn Pole, a cheese-stuffed, batter-dipped Polish sausage, discontinued because of processing issues.
Their hot dogs are available at wholesale only. They’re sold largely at golf courses and by South Side street peddlers. Susie’s Drive In, 4126 W. Montrose, serves Real hot dogs.
Leon’s Sausage, established in 1924 by Austrian immigrant Leon Tiahnybik, makes skinless all-beef wieners and natural casing and skinless beef-and-pork franks. Leon’s is now part of a family firm run by Tiahnybik’s grandaughter, Amylu T. Kurzawski, called ATK Foods, 1143 W. Lake. ATK’s other brands include Sausages by Amylu and Slotkowski (acquired in 1992). The company sells hot dogs online at atkfoods.com.
Daisy Brand hot dogs are made by Crawford Sausage Co., founded in 1925 on what was then South Crawford Road by a group of Czech sausage makers, whose descendants still own and operate the company.
Daisy is especially known for its natural casing beef-and-pork frankfurters, along with lunchmeats such as minced ham and the uniquely Chicago prasky.
Babe’s Hot Dogs in Joliet and the Creamery in the south suburbs serve Daisy Brand. Widely available at local retailers, especially on the South and West Sides, Daisy also is sold at crawfordsausage.com and at the factory store, 2310 S. Pulaski.
Kelly Eisenberg, 3531 N. Elston, started in 1929 as Kelly Corned Beef Co. The son of a sausage maker, Marvin Eisenberg bought the company in 1967. In 1992, they began selling Chicago-style all-beef hot dogs, says his son, Cliff, now company president.
They make gourmet Black Angus beef hot dogs with a steak seasoning, and their cooked bratwurst and beef Polish sausage are the Chicago Cubs’ official brand. Cinemark and Marcus movie theaters serve Eisenberg franks. Eisenberg sells its franks almost entirely to foodservice; their retail products are not sold in the Chicago area.
Romanian Kosher Sausage Co., opened by the Loeb family in Albany Park in 1957 and now in the hands of the third and fourth generation, is Chicago’s only manufacturer of kosher hot dogs.
Romanian bones its own meat — beef forequarters only, in accordance with glatt-kosher rules. The skinless, all-beef franks are seasoned according to an Old World recipe and hardwood-smoked in small batches.
The hot dogs are sold at some local supermarkets and kosher groceries, as well as at the company store, 7200 N. Clark, where they’ve been located since 1965.
Bobak Sausage Co. started out as a 1,000-square-foot North Side deli in 1967. The family lived over the shop, and Polish immigrant Frank Bobak made sausages in the back. Today, his eldest son, Stan, presides over a 120,000-square-foot plant with a restaurant and a large retail store.
The company makes a number of hot dog styles, including natural-casing all-beef, all-pork and all-veal. Bobak’s products are sold at a wide variety of retailers, as well as at the factory store, 5275 S. Archer, where they’ve been headquartered since 1986.
Red Hot Chicago, 4649 W. Armitage, was founded in 1986 by Vienna Beef founder Sam Ladany’s grandson Scott Ladany, who worked at Vienna from 1971 to 1983.
They make natural-casing and skinless all-beef dogs; skinless pork-and-beef wieners; franks flavored with extra garlic and smoke, jalapeno and cheese, and a New York style, among other products. The brand is the second-most popular at local hot dog stands.
Their only retail products, available at redhotchicago.com and many local supermarkets, are skinless beef franks and Polish sausages.
Sort-of Chicago brands
Scott Petersen Franks, established in 1927, are still manufactured in their venerable plant at 4550 W. Jackson. The brand, however, is now owned by Virginia-based Specialty Foods Group, which also uses the Chicago plant to make, among other sausages, the iconic New York brand Nathan’s Famous.
Kraft Foods, based in Northfield, is current owner of the famous Oscar Mayer Wieners, introduced in 1929 — but they make them in Wisconsin and Missouri.
Sara Lee, makers of Ball Park Franks, has its corporate headquarters in Downers Grove, but does no manufacturing in the Chicago area. Sara Lee made Best Kosher hot dogs on the West Side until 2009, when they discontinued the century-old brand and shut down the plant.