Buffalo, NY (WBEN) - It just might be the holy trinity of Buffalo food; chicken wings, beef on 'weck, and... Sahlen's Hot Dogs.
Sahlens was founded in Buffalo in 1869 by Joseph Sahlen, and as you can imagine, the business has changed quite a bit since then.
"We're fast approaching our 150th anniversary, and there's not too many family-owned businesses that can make that statement," said Joe Sahlen, the fourth-generation Owner of Sahlen's.
"We started off, and operated up and through the 1950's as a slaughter and cut operation. Eventually in the '50s the slaughtering went away, and in the '70s the cut operations went away," Sahlen said. Now, the Sahlen's facility in Buffalo is used for processing, packaging, and shipping.
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During the busy summer and pre-summer months, about 50 employees at any given time work to prepare hot dogs and other deli products. They all work with heavy machinery that seems complicated at first glance, but Joe Sahlen explains that the process is rather simple.
"We basically do our blending, add our seasonings, emulsify, stuff in to the casings. It goes from there to cooking, chilling, packaging, and then shipping." In between all of that, the meat can be tested in any number of ways, including by an type of X-ray machine used on occasion to tell if something unwanted sneaks in to the product.
HEAR THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH TWO GENERATIONS OF THE SAHLEN FAMILY
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Gary Steszwes, CityMade.com
HEAR THE STORY:
Part 1: History
Part 2: Making the Dogs
Part 3: A Regional Favorite
What part of the process gives the hot dogs their distinct Sahlen's taste?
"Most of it, I'd say 80-90% is in the flavor profile of our spice ingredient. Between my Dad and my Great Uncle, they refined the formula in the late 1950's and early 1960's. There's been very little modification to that since that time." What ingredients make up the Sahlen's Spice? That remains a made in Western New York secret.
Sahlen refers to New York as the "Hot Dog Corridor" because of the numerous local hot dog manufacturers across the state. He thinks that competition is a main factor in Buffalo's fierce loyalty to Sahlen's. "Syracuse is a Hoffman city, Rochester has Zweigle's, and we're here. Everybody has their local brand, and they're tastes develop so that's what they're used to, and that's what they like."
The same can't be said for other regions across the country, and as more people move from Western New York to other areas of the country, the Sahlen's name is expanding its footprint.
"If you go out of town, you'll find a lot of transplanted Western New York people, and you're going to find somebody that, when they hear that you're from Buffalo, they'll say 'Oh yeah, Sahlen's hot dogs!'"
That has provided an opportunity for Sahlen's, which has a Grillin' Wagon that travels around Charlotte, North Carolina where they hope to turn people on to their brand of hot dog. The famous franks may also be coming to a TV near you. Sahlen says he hopes to get his hot dogs on QVC, so transplanted Buffalonians across the country can order their hometown favorite.
Sahlen's has gone from humble beginnings in 1869, to making their way across the country. It's just one of many made in Western New York success stories.