Ken Pelikan has some good memories of Vienna Beef, the iconic Chicago meat company. That’s what brought him to the opening of Vienna Beef’s history museum at the company’s headquarters in the city’s Bucktown neighborhood. The pop-up exhibit is part of the company’s 125th anniversary celebration this year.
Pelikan said back in the 1960s, he and his high school buddies were the first to work at Johnnie’s Beef in west suburban Elmwood Park. They were called Johnnie’s boys.
“That’s where I learned all about making hot dogs the right way,” he said.
Pelikan works at a restaurant now where he still sometimes shows people how to make a proper Chicago-style hot dog — a Vienna Beef frank encased in a steamed poppy seed bun covered with yellow mustard, neon green relish, chopped onions, sport peppers, tomatoes, a dill pickle, and celery salt.
Vienna Beef Vice President Tom McGlade said the museum is an opportunity to unveil the artifacts of the sausage maker’s past.
“[It] would allow people to enjoy, walk through, think through all the fun times they had eating a hot dog or going to a hot dog stand, or enjoying it on a backyard grill,” McGlade said.
A mural takes visitors through a Vienna Beef timeline, starting from the brand’s first appearance in Chicago at the 1893 World’s Fair. Another wall displays the company’s advertising through the years, including neon and metal signs. Hot dog artifacts, like a hand crank meat grinder and an umbrella push cart, are also on display.
Vienna Beef has long been the leading hot dog brand in Chicago. McGlade said the company bought up some competitors while others went out of business. He said about 40 percent of their sales happen between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“That’s a combination of summertime, outdoor eating — picnics, barbeque, and baseball,” McGlade said. “Wrigley Field, for example, sells over 17,000 hot dogs on average per game.”
The pop-up exhibit is just beyond the Vienna Beef factory store and cafe, which some could argue doubles as a museum gift shop.
“In a way, we can guide people right to the fun and the enjoyment of all the artifacts that they see in the museum and enjoy it in real life in the form of a sandwich,” McGlade said.
Susie An is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her on Twitter @soosieon.