Grandpa preferred his hot dog boiled.
Joanna likes hers on the grill, burnt to a crisp.
My little cousin Frankie has his mom rip the skin off.
My grown adult cousin Kara prefers hers without the skin, too (though she peels it herself).
As a kid camping, my dad would poke holes in the casing with his car keys if he forgot a knife because Ma wasn’t there to yell. The heat cleans it, he’d say.
There’s one thing they all have in common, though. Burnt, boiled, or like a Buick, they all prefer a Sahlen’s hot dog.
In 1869, a construction worker in Buffalo, New York placed a cornerstone down on Howard St. for what would become the Sahlen’s food processing plant. They were a German family and brought their hot dog recipe with them. Their business would become a staple in the “hot dog corridor” that makes up much of upstate New York, where many German-Americans settled. Now, nearly 150 years later, that stone remains the center of gravity for a fifth-generation hot dog juggernaut with national ambitions.
The smell of a Sahlen’s hot dog cooking away on the grill has a way of filling a neighborhood. The taste signals the start of summer in Buffalo. The fourth of July wouldn’t be the same without a grill filled with them, either. The aroma markets itself to nearby hungry homes.
Your local Ted’s is a good marketer of Sahlen’s, too. They’re a lucrative partner that has helped boost the reputation even further.
While the hot dog is the reason for much of their notoriety, for the last 20 years Sahlen’s line of deli meats was what drove sales. With the 150th anniversary approaching in less than two years, the national hot dog campaign is well-under way, too.
Sahlen’s currently sells in 27 states and nearly 5,000 grocery stores. They’ve found traction in Phoenix, Arizona and the Carolina’s, where patio grilling is less of a summertime phase and much more of a lifestyle. No matter where they go, though, the spread of their reputation comes from, you guessed it, Buffalo.
“Buffalo is a built-in quality,” said Mark Battistoni, vice president of sales for Sahlen's. “Our business spreads by word of mouth, from transplanted Buffalonians.”
And now the owners are thinking expansion back home. Sahlen’s is amid a $7 million expansion project into a neighboring Buffalo building, adding nearly 35,000 square feet to operations. The new building will add a high-pressure pasteurization machine that helps eliminate even the thought of bacteria in the food. With the national outreach comes longer transport times and shelf life. The new machines ensure the same old quality. It’s a proactive step. But the best measure to ensure quality has been done since the day they opened.
“If you use quality ingredients, you end up with a good product,” Battistoni said.
Sahlen’s maintains a good product in the front office, as well. The blueprint of Buffalo Niagara is built into their company. They give back to the community, volunteering time and resources to help the place they’ve called home for over a century.
“We have touched almost every family in Buffalo for the last 50 years,” Battistoni said. If not through their philanthropic tendencies, certainly through a hot dog on the grill.
Oh, and for me? I’ll have it lightly charred. Toasted bun, just ketchup. Thanks.