Japan is home to a museum devoted to instant ramen. Belgium has one where the French fry takes center stage. And in England, there’s a museum that celebrates mustard.
For those that hunger for a space paying homage to a key Chicago contribution to world cuisine, hunger no more.
On Wednesday, the people who produce 125 million encased meat tubes annually opened the Vienna Beef History Museum — at the company’s factory store and cafe at the corner of Damen and Elston on the North Side.
The museum — a converted factory room with overhead strip lighting and cinderblock walls — opened on the company’s 125th anniversary.
To get there, visitors wind their way through the company café, past glass-fronted cases filled with franks, sauerkraut and a 5 ½ pound Vienna Bologna stick.
Tom McGlade, Vienna’s marketing VP, says he hopes the museum gives visitors a sense of how the company has become “part of the fabric of Chicago.”
There’s a yellowed photograph of a horse-drawn carriage, which hauled sausages and other meat products around the city between 1893 and 1920 on streets built, in the beginning, from planks. Today, customers can order Vienna Beef products online — delivered to their doorstep in chilled Styrofoam boxes.
There’s a photograph of a stand at the 1893 World’s Fair, where the Vienna Beef hotdog made its debut — 10 cents each.
And there are all kinds of pieces of equipment used in meat preparation, including a fearsome-looking meat cleaver — it’s blade embedded in a giant wooden chopping block.
What you won’t fine at the museum are details about the hotdog’s key spice ingredients.
“We mix it outside the building, so that no one inside the building even knows what the recipe is,” McGlade said.
It’s a small museum, with only a few hundred items. For a number of the few dozen visitors who trickled in Wednesday morning, the bigger draw was likely lunch.
Mark Snyder, 68, who lives downtown, took a look at a vintage cash register, some meat grinders and then decided to head for the café.
“It’s good eating. It’s gourmet food. You can’t beat a well-dressed hotdog,” said Snyder.