How much does the public really want to know about how sausage is made?
A lot, judging by the hundreds of people who attended opening day Saturday at the Foodseum — a portmanteau of food museum — to check out its debut exhibit, “The Hot Dog and Encased Meat of the World.”
On the second floor of Block 37 at 109 N. Dearborn, the postage-stamp-size “pop-up” museum showcases a sausage timeline that takes visitors back thousands of years; a replica butcher shop from the late 1800s; and a work station where you can operate a meat grinder using red Play-Doh.
Visitors to the Foodseum can try out a meat grinder, using Play-Doh. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
A speaker system from the Northwest Side drive-up classic Super Dawg is on loan, and Vienna Beef pitched in a chopping block your grandparent’s parents might find familiar.
A video tour of a Chicago sausage factory runs on a loop in one corner of the space while two other televisions feature clips of gourmet sausage being made and interviews with well-known Chicago chefs.
One wall is devoted to hot dog tchotchkes and pop culture.
The exhibit runs through Dec. 20, but the Foodseum already has its sights on a follow-up exhibit focused on one of the only staples that could upstage sausage: chocolate.
Downsides to the museum are limited. It’s free. And the guy behind the concept, Kyle Joseph, can be found sitting behind a folding table near the entrance to chat with visitors.
Joseph, 32, raised $30,000 on Kickstarter to fund the museum. His Block 37 landlords cut him a deal on rent. His staffers are volunteers. And if he gets the funding he needs from donations and sponsorships, the Foodseum experiment can continue indefinitely.
He picked up a passion for food while living abroad in England and Germany as a youth. His father’s job with General Motors led the family overseas.
“I love discovering things through food and the connections it brings to people, and I’ve always wanted to find a way to share that,” said Joseph, who has a master’s degree in entrepreneurship from DePaul University.
His last project — a tech startup — didn’t pan out but it was good training for building a museum from scratch, he said.
Joseph, who is from California originally and lives in Lincoln Park with his fiancee, formed partnerships with Chicago institutions such as the Chopping Block, which offers cooking classes.
And Chicago gourmet sausage heavyweight Doug Sohn, who ran the wildly popular Hot Doug’s sausage shop in Avondale until shutting down last year, has given the Foodseum his stamp of approval.
“I’m just incredibly inspired by Kyle’s persistence and focus and energy and just a real sense in knowing what he wanted,” Sohn, who is on the museum’s board of directors, said Sunday.
The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Part of a timeline at the Foodseum. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
A sausage timeline takes visitors back thousands of years. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times