Author Emily Stone Illustration Graham Roumieu
Before class, Mark Reitman is brainstorming marketing taglines for Hot Dog University, the two-day training program for aspiring Chicago-style hot dog cart and stand owners that he founded ﬁve years ago.
“How about this: ‘The nation’s college for encased meat knowledge’?” he asks. “Nah, not tasty enough.”
This course on franks combines tips on marketing and purchasing with practical training on the North Side, at a hot dog cart outside the Vienna Beef factory, which has partnered with the school. Among other secrets, students learn to heat dogs to no higher than 150 degrees to prevent a rubbery texture, and that all utensils should be red or yellow, to evoke toppings.
The class begins, and the 25 students take their seats. Since Reitman opened his doors, the student body has grown from 18 his ﬁrst year to an expected 140 this year. One student is Peter Lin, who plans to set up a cart in Philadelphia, where there’s an abundance of cheesesteak but few Chicago-style dogs. He works for a company that makes equipment for the pharmaceutical industry; it saw business drop by 50 percent last year.
“I feel like I have to diversify,” he says.
Then there are some students who are simply big fans of the frank.
“It’s a fun business,” whispers Steve, who is diligently taking notes in his spiral-bound notebook. His day job is in asphalt. “People are generally in a good mood when they’re around food, and what’s more fun than a frank?”
Student Julie Dyne takes a big bite of a dog loaded with onions, mustard, hot peppers and neon green relish. The course requires a student to eat a dangerous amount of dogs, but Dyne is philosophical.
“I’m having a salad,” she says. “I’m putting lots of relish on it.”