Chicago hot dog court battle heats up in Vienna Beef v. Red Hot

June 23, 2011

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Vienna Beef accuses Red Hot Chicago of stealing their wiener recipe.

Another week, another wiener scandal.

According to Vienna Beef Chief Executive Jim Bodman, either Red Hot Chicago stole the Vienna Beef hot dog recipe, or its marketing is lying to customers. As a result, the company has filed a lawsuit against its sausage-making rival.

“Scott has been running ads in the trade magazines telling people that he’s using the original family formula,” Bodman said about Red Hot Chicago founder Scott Ladany in a phone interview, “We’re concerned that he is attempting to mislead people into thinking that he is part of our organization or we’re a big happy family or something like that.”

Scott Ladany is the grandson of Samuel Ladany, one of the two founders of Vienna Beef in 1893. Scott Ladany worked for Vienna Beef until he decided to leave in 1983 to start his own hot dog company. On his exit, he signed employment and severance agreements that prohibited him from using the company’s recipes.

Bodman doesn’t know if Red Hot Chicago is using Vienna Beef’s hot dog recipe -- he says Ladany has denied it -- but he does know that their advertising is unfair.

“It’s [the lawsuit’s] coming now because he started using the phrase that he has been using original family recipes,” Bodman said. “And that’s a new phrase. And that’s the one that really bothered us.”

A Red Hot Chicago representative said they are not yet ready to comment on the lawsuit.

Culinary historian Dr. Bruce Kraig, who wrote a book titled Hot Dog: A Global History, said when he tasted the two hot dog brands side-by-side several years ago, he detected a difference in the two. But he said that doesn’t prove it’s not the same recipe.

“Anyone that makes a Chicago-style, the flavoring profile that is in a Vienna, can come close and it wouldn’t be exactly the same,” Kraig said. “So I can’t comment on whether that recipe is reproduced by Red Hot Chicago.”

But in court, evidence can be found to show what ingredients were used in each wiener, said Kraig.

“Any sausage maker can replicate any recipe, because the chemists can analyze it,” Kraig said. “So they know whether it’s the same recipe or not.”