Chrissy and the Hot Dog Factory

I seriously had the best day ever. So I’m not sure if you remember that one time I walked head first into a pole because I was busy excitedly Skyping my co-workers? (If you haven’t read that, you probably should. Because it’s a prelude to this tale. Plus it’s funny. I’ll wait.)

Okay, fine. If you didn’t read it, long story short: I got on a 3-year waitlist for the Vienna Beef factory tour.

So fast forward to January when the company e-mails me to say, “Oh hey, by the way…you can’t come in September of 2016 because we’re moving to the Southside. So why don’t you come in April instead?”

Less than a year wait for something that people wait an entire lifetime (the lifetime of toddler, but a lifetime nonetheless) for?! Hell. Yes.

A brief look at the Chicago hot dog dynasty from the eyes of me

I grew up in a mom-and-pop Chicago suburb pub. My parents owned a bar from before my birth until shortly after my 25th birthday. My father prided himself on the highest quality Chicago-style hot dog and beef sandwiches. And they were the best. Because he used Vienna beef. I learned early on that the only hot dog is a Vienna beef hot dog.

The Vienna Beef Factory Tour

I knew it would be just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…only with the Willy Wonka of Meat Candy instead. And I would end the tour with a lifetime’s supply of hot dogs. (As it turned out, it was again a lifetime supply for a toddler, but a lifetime nonetheless. Okay fine it was a hot dog and fries, but the best hot dog and fries ever…with RED cream soda).

We were greeted at the back office by Danny, our Willy Wonka for the day.

Willy Wonka Welcome

He handed us hard hats and coats…hair nets and beard nets (I was not given a beard net for the 17 hairs on my chin).

Vienna Important Person - Vienna Beef Factory Tour

From the get-go, Danny seemed to know everything and anything about the factory. As we walked through the place, he greeted every. single. person. by name.

 

He told us that he had been working there since he was 16 and that it was most definitely a family operation. He explained that they tried as often as possible to hire friends and family members of employees, though they did of course have an application process for others, as well. I asked if he had family working their, and he gave us a knowing grin. I obviously assumed he had a parent or aunt/uncle who worked on the assembly line or in the offices.  As he said, “Pressing on,” I imagined he was wearing a purple coat and brown hat instead of the Vienna Beef jacket and hard hat. I was calling him Willy in my head, instead of Danny.

Willy Wonka Tour

Prior to attending this most-exciting event, I was told that it was a crazy idea. I was told I’d never want to eat a hot dog again. I was told about pink slime. But I was confident that these 100% beef hot dogs were made from the purest of cows.

As we made our way through the tour, we learned of their incredibly clean factory practices, including our required handwashing as we entered the factory (even though we didn’t touch anything), feet washing as we progressed from raw to prepared food, and the daily quality assurance taste test.

Willy Wonka Taste Test

At the end of the packaging process, once items are sealed, but before they’re boxed, there’s a metal detector to make sure that not even a single speck of metal from the machinery made it into the meat. It really felt like we were with Willy Wonka when we saw the conveyor belt slide open and drop a package of hot dogs into a bin after passing through the metal detector. Apparently that was a bad egg.

Bad Egg

 

Of course, we learned a lot about the process, too. The factory is pretty cold because obviously there’s the meat to think about. They also add ice to keep meat at the right temp-which is where the added water content comes from in the product ingredients. The strip off the external fat (which could have bacteria and stuff you don’t want in your hot dog or beef sandwich) from the meat that comes in, and dye it green right away so that it doesn’t end up in your food.

They make different meat products on different days, based on the demand and seasonality of certain products. Everything is designed to have complete uniformity, right down to the fat content. We got to check out the gigantic smoker with the hickory chips that they use in the smoking process just as the hot dogs were being removed. It smelled like heaven. Legitimately. During the daily taste-testing, employees taste products to ensure quality and maintain that uniformity. When we joined the tasting team, they asked us how we were enjoying ourselves, and of course, I looked at this guy and told him, “THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.”

I think he thought I was joking. But I wasn’t. Mostly.

We got to check out the gigantic smoker with the hickory chips that they use in the smoking process. It smelled like heaven. Legitimately.

And the tour ended with a free hot dog, fries and a drink from the Vienna Beef Factory Cafe.

Vienna Beef Hot dog and fries

It was magical and wonderful, and I’ll never eat a hot dog that isn’t from Vienna Beef again.

 

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

So You’re Coming to Chicago for BlogHer? I’ve Got Tips and Tricks for Surviving Chicago

With less than a month to the joy of my very first ever BlogHer conference (and the start of a MAD slew of nerdcon JOY), I thought I would offer you what I know. Knowledge is power, y’all…And I’m like fucking She-Ra up in here.

As someone who’s never been to BlogHer, I can’t really offer any BlogHer13 specific advice, but I am a master of the Chi. A suburbanite turned corporate-America-city-office-slug, I’ve got the deets that you can’t ignore. So share this shit with your friends. And then look for me at the conference. I’ll be the fake ginger in the hot pink tutu.

Parking

Shit guys, parking is expensive. Lucky for you, I am a fucking money saving genius. I don’t pay full price for anything. ESPECIALLY not parking. But in Chicago, we’ve got this sweet app/website (and no, they aren’t paying me to say nice things about them) called Spot Hero, where you can get reduced price parking. You’re welcome.

Okay, that’s all I really have. Good luck. Can’t wait to meet you!

JK, guys. What type of host do you think I am? Oh, right…I’m not hosting this shit, I’m just trying to help you out.

Food

Chicago is home to some of the BEST food in the world. Don’t believe me? Venture outside your hotel room into the big bad city and partake of any of your favorite cuisines and foodstuffs. We’re known for these:

  • Hot dogs
  • Italian beef sandwiches
  • Polish sausage
  • Combo (Italian beef and Italian sausage)
  • Deep dish pizza
  • Thin crust pizza
  • Pizza in general from anywhere that claims Chicago style pizza

BUT, we do everything well. Go out for Mexican or Italian. Find a Cuban restaurant or a little Mediterranean dive with pita and falafel. Gorge yourself on meat and cheese at a delicious little cheese shop or get a sugar high at a French pastry shop. Next week, I’ll post about some of my favorite Loop spots for you to enjoy tasty treats. They’re almost all by Millennium Park, where you can take your picture in front of a giant metal jellybean. Which brings me to the next point.

Touristy Shit

How to survive Blogher Chicago

I don’t know how to smile like a normal person

The Bean

I’m pretty sure that I just discovered the official name for this monstrosity is “Cloud Gate.” I’m also pretty sure that if you ask anyone in Chicago, “Where’s Cloud Gate?” You’ll get a blank stare. In these parts, we call it The Bean. You should too. It’s a giant metal jellybean in the middle of Millennium Park, where I occasionally grab Panera or some amazing food truck fare and have a little lunch while I people watch like a motherfucker. This puppy is a tourist hot spot…so go check it out. Plus there’s like a big park and stuff for you to enjoy.

 

How to Survive BlogHer in Chicago

Sears Tower: It’s not sooo big, right? I walk by it almost every day!

Sears Tower

I guess some people are calling this giant skyscraper, “Willis Tower” now. Fuck that. It’s the Sears Tower. Just roll with me, here okay? We abhor change, here in The Chi. This here’s a tall building. It’s kinda awesome. My grandfather was a part of the building crew (LIKE a BOSS). I haven’t been to the Sky Deck since I was 7 or 8. Since then, they’ve added one of those glass floors that makes it terrifying to walk on. Maybe I’ll go with you. Maybe I won’t. Probably not. Let’s be honest.

 

 

Dolphin pictures

These are the trickster dolphins at the Shed. Love them. I do.

The Museums

Not to brag or anything, but The Chi has some of the best museums on the planet. Science & Industry is a fan favorite, so if you dig learning (which you fucking should) or science, or technology, go check this one out. Love for nature? Field museum. Marine life and fishies? Oceanarium. With DOLPHINS. The best dolphins ever. Pacific white sided dolphins, which are spazzier than bottle-nosed dolphins. There are also penguins for Katies. We’ve also got a rockstar art museum (The Art Institute) for your artistic types. And the Adler Planetarium for stargazers. And TWO zoos. The free zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo is in the city, about a $20 cab ride from BlogHer. Okay, and you have to travel to the suburbs for the better zoo (Brookfield Zoo)…but still. Worth it.

So those are just a few of many ideas for you when you’re conferenced out and want to hang with a few people on a sweet ass adventure. Or if you’re super smart and staying a few extra days doing the touristy thing.

More Chicago Tips:

What to pack for Chicago weather

How to make nice with the Chicago natives

Where to eat if you’re on more of a budget

If you’ve been to BlogHer, tell me your own tips and tricks for the actual conference! If you’re from Chicago, what would you want to tell our visitors? If you just want to show me how awesome you are, tell me about your own city or small town!

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!