In Buffalo, Sahlen’s have long been the king of hot dogs. But in NYC they’ve got their own hot dog scene going on. The all beef “dirty water” Nathan dogs on the street carts and Papaya King have always been cheap eats staples. But over time there has been a steady infux of Buffalonians living in the big city and the demand for Sahlen’s hot dogs and other local amenities have increased. Simply attend a Bills game at the local backer bar McFaddens and you’ll think that your watching the game back home, Labatt Blue and chicken wings are everywhere.
My best friend Mike has lived in the city for three years now and has seen first hand these transplanted Buffalo experiences. He recently told me about his buddy Steve Garcia, who just opened Red’s Char Grilled Hot Dogs. Red’s is not only offering Sahlen’s hot dogs, but they also have Weber’s mustard, Chicken Wings and Loganberry on their menu. I reached out to Steve to ask him a couple questions about his restaurant/company, how he fell in love with Sahlen’s and some of the unique hot dogs he’s created.
When did you first fall in love with Sahlen Hot Dogs?
Steve: I am a born and raised Upper East Side-r and grew up with a very famous hot dog joint (Papaya King) a few blocks from my home. I always thought they were the best! My father would also bring home Hebrew National, Nathans or Franks from the butcher, they were all beef but I always thought they were too salty. Whether they were pan griddled or boiled, they were just ok. I moved to Buffalo to attend UB in 1991 and tried Sahlen’s for the first time at a friends BBQ and I was hooked. I was never a yellow mustard fan but these magical dogs had Weber’s on them and it was an amazing pairing.
Once I moved back to NYC I would do anything for friends to send or bring me the 5lb bag and a big jar of mustard. A few years later I met a girl from Buffalo that was just visiting the city for her cousins 40th birthday party and we started dating long distance. You can bet it was her duty to always bring down the goods, we dated a little over a year and that was 8 years ago. During those years we would invite friends and family over for BBQ’s and invariably everyone would say “what kind of hot dog is that”? “that is the best hot dog I’ve ever had”! “that mustard is amazing”.
How did Red’s Char-Grilled Hot Dogs start?
Steve: My initial idea was to start a food truck but I quickly found out that there was a thirty year wait for a permit to be issued from the Department of Health or I could go black market and lease one from a current permit holder for about $20k. Since that was out of the question, I applied for the daily temporary permits that allowed me to operate solely at street fairs. I thought it would be a great way to introduce the product to the people of this city at the grass roots level.
We finally hit the street on June 25th, 2011 and New Yorkers took their first bites of what I market as the World’s Best Hot Dog! We sold only 50 hot dogs that day but it didn’t matter, the comments were all the same. In fact the standard comment from a Sahlens virgin’ is “OMG that is the best hot dog I’ve ever had!”. Not trying to brag but its true, that’s what we hear on a daily basis. It feels great to have that kind of response.
One of our tag lines is “We proudly serve Sahlen’s Brand Hot dogs and Weber’s mustard, fresh never frozen and made with love”. I order both the Sahlens all beef jumbo and traditional pork and beef Smokehouse dogs a few hundred pounds at a time and have them sent via air freight.
Also, before naming the company I researched the history of hot dogs and one of the first names was the red hot (coined from the dogs coming red hot off of the grill). In fact they added bread because it was a good way to hold it without burning yourself. Thus Red’s was the winner from all the brain storming, something easy and catchy for people to say (Hey lets go get some Red’s!).
What do you offer for toppings on your dogs?
Steve: We also do things a little differently than they do in Buffalo. I offer a series of signature dogs that are gourmet to say the least. There are three Asian inspired: the Peking Dog (pictured above), Banh Mi and Teriyaki Dog. Three Spanish: the Viva Mexico, Nacho Dog and El Cubano. As well as our BBQ, Loaded Baked Potato, BLT and Buffalo Dog.
I’m working on introducing the Pizza Dog, Mediterranean Dog and a Curry Indian version. We offer simple suggestions like the NY Classic (mustard and sauerkraut) or the B-Lo Special (mustard, ketchup and fresh diced onions). You can imagine most ex-pats order it that way.
Have you noticed a large amount of Buffalo ex-pats coming by and really enjoying the place?
Steve: It’s amazing to see the look on peoples faces when they approach the booth and they immediately say, “are you from Buffalo???” or “No way.. Sahlens, Webers and Loganberry in NYC!!!” Now that we are in a Brick and Mortar and we have a huge sign in the window, more and more Buffalonians have been walking in saying you must be kidding me! This is what we have been dreaming of.
Where can people find you and your dogs?
Steve: I am located in a bar that has been around since 1988, American Trash located at 1471 First Avenue between 76th and 77th streets. We also started an email sign up sheet at the booth and would send out email blasts as to our whereabouts from street fair to street fair although we have stopped attending then since we have our first location.
Big thanks to Steve for answering our questions while he’s busy spreading the gospel of Sahlen’s to the residents of NYC. Follow Red’s on facebook to keep up to date with their latest news/menu additions. Check out other press they’ve gotten from NYC Food Blog PHUDE-nyc and our own Buffalo.com.