Chicago-style hot dogs are more works of art than they are food items. Don’t get me wrong, they’re delicious, but it’s amazing to watch a street vendor construct one of these things, and even more amazing when you work out the geometry required to actually fit one in your mouth. If you’re not familiar, the Chicago hot dog is a regular hot dog topped with mustard, chopped onions, sweet relish, a pickle spear, tomato wedges, peppers, and celery salt. By the time everything has been stacked on top of it, the hot dog itself is long buried.
For the last two years, the city’s third professional baseball team, the Chicago Dogs of the independent American Association, have paid homage to the Windy City’s signature food item with their name and logo.
“A great team name and brand is a reflection of the community, both the history and the culture of the community,” said team owner Shawn Hunter. “For us, the Chicago Dogs is the intersection of summer. Nothing goes better than a hot dog and baseball.”
And for Chicago in particular, the history of the hot dog is integral to the city.
“I’m not sure there are too many sports names that have as deep a history as Chicago Dogs does in this market,” Hunter said. “It was introduced by German immigrants back in the late 1800s in the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. The Chicago dog has played an important role ever since. It’s sustainable and affordable. It kept people out of work alive. It kept people in jobs—if you think about the number of hot dog carts that are here in Chicago.”
With all that history, Hunter was pleasantly surprised by one important fact when researching the name: “The trademark on Chicago Dogs was available,” he said. “We own the US trademark for both Chicago Dogs and Chicago Wieners.”
When the team first started looking into a new name, they explored a couple options, but ultimately they knew the right one when they saw it.
“We kicked around, with our proximity to O’Hare, potential aviation names,” Hunter said. “We looked at themes around the Windy City. But once the words Chicago Dogs hit paper, there was no second choice.”
Hunter knows a thing or two about sports names—in his three decades in the industry with various teams, two of his career highlights involve being involved in creating identities for the Colorado Avalanche and then-Phoenix Coyotes when they moved to their current locations from Quebec and Winnipeg respectively.
“I’ve always wanted to own a minor league baseball team,” he said. “I always kind of joke that I practiced on the NHL and the NBA so that I could do this.”
The logo itself was created by Dan Price of the Denver-based design firm Adrenalin, who had worked with Hunter on projects with the Avalanche and Nuggets in Denver.
“It’s a very clean logo that incorporates the colors of the Chicago flag and the history of the city,” Hunter said. “Once I saw the design direction that is now our primary logo, we stopped there. We realized that it captured the spirit and longevity of what we were trying to accomplish—the simplicity, the ties to the history, and the ties to Chicago.”
Mid-week during the season, the team ditches its clean, sophisticated logo for a brand perhaps more in keeping with today’s minor league baseball landscape. The team takes on a totally different “Wiener Wednesday” brand, created by Kevin Gilsdorf of Kindle Point, Inc., and sells hot dogs for two dollars.
“The Wiener Wednesday logo was very intentionally over the top,” Hunter said. “We wanted it to be a little bit crazy looking. The loud mustard yellow and all of the ingredients that define a Chicago dog. We have the contrast between the simple but bold traditional mark, and the crazy, irreverent mark that you would expect from most minor league teams.”
After two seasons in a crowded Chicago entertainment market, the team has started to build a base. The Dogs saw growth in attendance, social media numbers, and online/streaming traffic last year.
“We’ve sold merchandise via our online shop to 46 of 50 U.S. states, including sales to Washington D.C. and to Canada,” said Sam Brief, the team’s Broadcast and Media Relations Manager.
Many of those sales may be attributed to Hunter himself: “I travel every week between Chicago and Denver, and I wear Chicago Dogs gear, a sweatshirt or T-shirt or hat, and I’m amazed how many times people come up and ask me whether they can get that,” he said.
Of course, as any hyper-regional food item might, the Chicago hot dog elicits strong opinions in locals. Brief, who grew up in nearby Highland Park, is quick to tell you that the best hot dog in town is Michael’s Red Hots. Also, he is a firm believer in one commonly held belief in Chicago: one does not put ketchup on a hot dog.
To that end, the team’s mascots are the lovable protagonist mustard bottle named “Squeeze” (pictured above), and the dastardly villain Ketchup, who is often dressed in a trench coat or prison garb to accentuate just how evil he is.
Finally, and most importantly, the Chicago Dogs have what I feel is the final word on this important question: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
“Absolutely not,” Brief said. “I’m even more passionate about that than I am about the no ketchup thing. I think there’s no world in which a hot dog is a sandwich.” (Asked the same question, Hunter deferred to Brief: “I’m going to go with Sam,” he said.)
I had the opportunity to attend a Dogs game in their inaugural season in 2018. Impact Field, which has won Ballpark Digest’s Best Independent Ballpark in back-to-back seasons, is a great place to watch a ballgame, and more importantly, that slick, classy logo is featured prominently on their helmet sundaes.