"The reputation of a brand is like a freight train,” said Jim Bodman, chairman and CEO of Vienna Beef, a 123-year old Chicago company. “It goes up the hill very slowly, but can come crashing down very fast.”
Bodman started working at Vienna Beef in the warehouse more than 50 years ago and still believes there should be no ketchup on a true Chicago-style hot dog. He explained that every true Chicagoan has a memory or two of eating a Chicago-style dog and it is paramount that those memories be positive, which is why he focuses so much on protecting the Vienna Beef brand.
“Vienna Beef has long been an iconic brand in Chicago,” Bodman said. “(We were able to grow the brand because) we refused to dilute our brand name.”
He cited the example of the time when the company sold turkey breast to foodservice and chose not to brand it Vienna.
|Jim Bodman, chairman and CEO of Vienna Beef|
“If you are really good at making (beef) hot dogs, that does not mean you are very good at turkey,” Bodman said. “We used to be a hot dog company, today we are more, but we still use our brand carefully. You won’t find it on the pickles, soups or chilies we produce.”
It is on beef (hot dogs, pastrami and Italian-style sliced with gravy tubs) and condiments. These include green relish, yellow mustard, celery salt, sports peppers and giardiniera.
“Over the years, we refused to associate with companies who we did not like or appreciate – restaurants who were not good operators,” Bodman said. “We did not want to affiliate with poor operators.”
Bodman explained that even during challenging economic times, the company stayed true to its all-beef recipe, staying away from adding extra fat, soy or other extenders to lower costs.
“It’s the hardest thing to be a sales rep for a product that costs more than the competition,” he said. “We’ve been tempted many times to lower costs, but you have to make a product that lives up to consumers’ expectations.”
Portillo’s Hot Dogs LLC, Oak Brook, Illinois, serves a number of Vienna Beef products. The company, which started as “The Dog House” in 1963 in Villa Park, Ill., in a trailer without running water, now has restaurants throughout Chicago as well as in six other states (Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin).
|Keith Kinsey, CEO of Portillo's Hot Dogs|
“We had 98 percent awareness in Chicago (back in 2005 when we started expanding beyond Illinois),” said Keith Kinsey, CEO, “We had to figure out how to create that same excitement and energy in new markets.”
Kinsey explained that Portillo’s reputation is built on four principles. They are: atmosphere, cleanliness, quality and service.
“We believe our restaurants are also built on stories,” he said. “We take our talent that has been developed and merge it with new people in the new locations.”
They create their own unique stories. They also create consistent product.
Every Portillo’s location serves the same products, including its Chicago-style hot dog.
What exactly is a Chicago-style hot dog? It is a hot dog – preferably all beef – topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. It never has ketchup.