Inside Vienna Beef: The Chicago icon that defined the Windy City's hot dog tradition

When you think of a Chicago-style hot dog, any purest knows it has to start with one thing, and that is Vienna Beef. It's been a Chicago staple that has stood the test of time for more than 130 years.

In a FOX 32 Special Report, Sylvia Perez went behind the scenes at the factory and showed us why Vienna Beef is synonymous with a recipe for success.

Chicago's famous World Columbian Exposition of 1893 introduced many firsts. The zipper, the Ferris wheel, the automatic dishwasher and Vienna Beef hot dogs, still made in Chicago today.

"Vienna is just one of those classic, iconic Chicago companies, so everyone gets really excited," said Taylor Bodman.

Taylor and Jack Bodman are brother and sister and just two of seven children of the family patriarch Jim Bodman. Jim bought the company more than 60 years ago. He had originally been a warehouse employee. Today, Jim and the Bodman family still take pride in the original all-beef recipe that is now shipped to hot dog stands, grocery stores and restaurants around the country.

"The hot dogs we make every day, we start from scratch in the morning, and the idea is we want to be able to make product and ship it on the same day," Jack said.

The factory starts early in the morning, cranking out thousands of hot dogs and sausages. It's not only a Chicago family-owned company, but also a business that runs like a family.

"I'm Chicago born. Grew up in Chicago, so working for a company that is Chicago-based that caters to this type of environment, very family oriented," said one employee.

"That was part of one of my interview questions. ‘Why did I want to work here?’ And I said, because I want to make the best hot dog. So here I am eight years later still making the best hot dog in the world," another employee added.

But let's go back more than 130 years ago when Vienna Beef first made a name for itself.

It started out when two Austrian-Hungarian brothers sold their sausages to visitors at the World Exposition. It was such a hit that a year later they opened a storefront.

The Chicago-style dog is said to have gotten its start from street cart vendors during the Great Depression selling a hot meal on a bun for only a nickel.

The story goes that Chicago's ethnically diverse communities started adding their own toppings and that's how the classic Chicago-style hot dog was born.

Vienna Beef, yellow mustard, that neon green relish, fresh chopped onion, two tomato wedges, two sport peppers, a pickle spear, and a dash of celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

And Chicagoans know there's one thing that doesn't belong.

"Nobody, I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog," actor Clint Eastwood famously said in the movie ‘Sudden Impact.’

Okay, so definitely none of that red stuff, but there's one final must and that's the all-important snap.

"Well, the snap is extremely important. Regardless of the type of hot dog you make, a natural casing or a skinless, it's supposed to have a nice texture of bite, so when you eat it, you have a nice firm texture. The color’s good, the flavor's good. It's got the right temperature so it can hold all the cold ingredients and all the hot together. It all comes together," Jack Bodman said.

The Vienna Beef factory store is located right across the street from the production facility in Bridgeport. It sells all Vienna Beef products including the Italian beef, the celery salt, pickles and all the trimmings. And you can order hot dogs to go.

Vienna Beef hot dog stands have become part of the Chicago landscape. You can find them in almost every neighborhood and now beyond. The website even has a Vienna Beef locator if you want authenticity, no matter where you travel.

And some of these stands have earned the prestigious honor of being named to the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame.

"So, they have to be a Vienna Beef customer for probably 20, 25 years, and they get nominated. And, it's a really exciting time for them," said Taylor Bodman.

"We try to have some new stations come in and just shine a light on them because it's not easy owning a hot dog stand. It's seven days a week work. And they feel so much pride to be, just have that light shine on them. And we're really, really grateful to have them as our customers."

For the Bodman family, it's all about carrying on the tradition of the iconic Vienna Beef name. So when someone bites into their delicious hot dog and hears that famous snap, it taste like memories.

"Our goal is today to make a product that is the same as it was when people went when they were with their parents when they were little kids. If people didn't have that connection to their youth, we wouldn't be here today," Jack said.

Vienna Beef also has a soup, chilli and corned beef business that sells directly to restaurants. They even make their own pickles and bread.

Here's the good news if you're a fan. The next generation of the Vienna Beef family members are already working with the company, ensuring this Chicago tradition will continue for many more years to come.