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How a local hotdog company became top dog in WNY

Posted at 9:48 PM, Nov 26, 2014
and last updated 2015-11-21 21:48:52-05

Nothing beats a charbroiled, cooked to perfection hot dog. Head to most popular roadside stands in Western New York and they'll serve you a Sahlen's.

Sahlen's Packing Co. has been part of the food scene in Western New York for 145 years. But company president Joe Sahlen says it took a long time to become the top dog.

"I think generally we started to gain momentum in mid-60s," he said. "I was pretty young then. There was a whole string of hotdog stands along Sheridan Drive. It was hot dog alley over there."

Survival in today's business climate means going high tech, something that Sahlen's has invested in in recent years.

"We've mechanized quite a bit here," Sahlen said. "Labor is very expensive. We have to keep up with technology and be competitive."

Sahlen's is a fifth generation family run business that produces upwards of 60 different products.  "The more products you have to fill the cases, the better," Sahlen said.

Those supermarkets also dictate peak production at Sahlen's based on seasonal retail sales for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Sahlen remembers when they were just another holiday in a season of hot dogs. But a longer shelf life means customers can stock up on hot dogs with sale prices.

Sahlen's plant, on Buffalo's East Side, remains busiest from early May through Labor Day as production jumps from about 50 to nearly 80.

While hot dog sales peak over the summer, they're about even with ham sales, which are steady year round. Sahlen's smokehouse turkey is also a top seller year round.

Sahlen's is now busy with bone-in ham sales for holiday dinners.

In the meantime, Sahlen's is trying to score by reaching out on social media and with sports-related marketing efforts like the Sahlen's Sports Park in Elma. In Rochester, a market known for its white hots, you'll find Sahlen's Stadium, a women's professional soccer complex.

Now Sahlen's is hoping to share its flavor outside WNY.

"We're just finishing up our 145th year and looking forward to our 150th in five years," Sahlen said. "There's not too many businesses that can say they've been around for 145 years, much less family owned for 145 years."