June 19, 2003
Kosher Dog Days of Summer
"A hot dog and a beer at a baseball game is Americana at its best."
A sunny day at Dodger Stadium; Shawn Green at bat. What could be more enjoyable than a cold beer and a kosher hot dog?
Sound like a dream? Think again. Through the efforts of a former Hamilton High baseball player and current rabbi, glatt kosher hot dogs are a reality at several games each season.
For the last four years Rabbi Aaron Parry, Jews for Judaism's education director, has set up a kosher stand on the blue reserve deck at Dodger Stadium a few days each season, such as when Jewish summer campers show up en masse.
Parry supervises the stand's kashering the night before. (Since the stadium's kitchen area is not kosher, all cooking takes place off site and the hot dogs -- made by Jeff's Gourmet in Pico-Robertson -- are brought in on the day of the game.) Observant fans gladly support Parry's annual effort and want to see the Dodgers make a commitment to providing kosher food throughout the season.
"A hot dog and a beer at a baseball game is Americana at its best," said Dr. Seymour Silverstein of Woodland Hills, an observant Jew and 25-year season ticketholder.
Parry thinks so too: "There is talk about having a permanent booth," he said.
Ballparks in cities around the country -- from New York to Chicago to San Francisco to Seattle -- serve either glatt kosher or Hebrew National hot dogs. But the fight over kosher hot dogs at Dodger Stadium is either about logistics and financial viability or retaining market share -- depending on which side you believe.
Kosher hot dogs could become a regular item if stadium food concessionaire Aramark develops a plan that would help it work around a longstanding problem: the Dodgers' food preparation and storage area is contained within one large room.
Since the Dodgers' official hot dog -- Farmer John's Dodger Dog -- is made from pork, Aramark wants to make sure that kosher food and anything used in its preparation will not come into contact with anything treif (nonkosher) from storage to preparation to sales.
However, fans that support the inclusion of kosher food service at the park believe that questions of financial viability on Aramark's part -- and a contract between Farmer John and the Dodgers -- might also be hampering the process of getting a glatt kosher hot dog added to the stadium's menu.
Lon Rosenberg, director of stadium operations for Aramark, said that the company's primary concern is the ballpark's food storage and preparation area, which was built 40 years ago and stores the entire stadium's perishable products. To have proper kosher preparation, he said the Dodgers would likely need to create a separate area.
Rosenberg has listened to a variety of proposals and toured ballparks with kosher facilities, but he said he hasn't found a solution that would work for the Dodgers.
"We've looked to design the infrastructure in such a way as to make this work, but we have not been able to do that," he said.
Parry thinks Aramark can at least work around the kosher storage issue with their current facility as is.
"Having been inside the freezer, it seems that it's not too hard to do," he said, adding that as long as packages of hot dogs or other products are sealed, it's possible to set aside an area in the freezer where kosher food could be locked away. The only people to have access to it would be the mashgiach or the rav hamachshir (people ensuring that it's kosher).
Unlike other ballparks, Dodger Stadium cannot simply turn to kosher hot dog carts.
"There are specific regulations with the County of Los Angeles regarding what you can do on a cart," Rosenberg said, pointing out that cooking isn't one of them.
Ultimately, Aramark would need to coordinate with the Dodgers to set aside space specifically for the preparation of kosher food or find a way to effectively contract the service with a secondary company.
Parry said that Aramark is somewhat leery about devoting its resources to a venture that could ultimately fail, especially since its past attempts to introduce Hebrew National hot dogs -- which observant Jews don't consider kosher -- at the ballpark didn't take.
"The powers that be are dragging their feet because they're not convinced that this is financially viable," Parry said.
Parry sets up shop on special days when there will be a guaranteed Jewish turnout, so he knows that the stand will turn a profit.
"The first time we did this, we sold 1,500," said Parry, who estimates that he averages sales of about 750 hot dogs. "Even when Dodger Stadium is sold out, a stand never sells more than 800 or 900 [Dodger Dogs]."
Rosenberg said that Parry's stand has done "pretty well" when it comes to hot dog sales. But Aramark wants to know that there will still be enough interest in a kosher hot dog that it remains profitable throughout the season.
Regarding sales, the only relevant financial information Aramark was willing to share with The Journal is that the price of Dodger Dogs is $3.50, while kosher dogs are $4.25. Parry also declined to share any costs or profits associated with his stand.
Parry and other religious fans express concern that the regular availability of kosher hot dogs might be perceived as a potential threat to stalwart Dodger sponsor Farmer John. Despite the fact that Orthodox Jews wouldn't eat Farmer John's products, there is both hope and worry that a kosher hot dog at Dodger Stadium might appeal to the nonobservant public. Supporters hope that a kosher dog appeals to more than just the Jewish community, which would help bolster arguments with Aramark that sales wouldn't be a concern. But if it's too successful, they worry that Farmer John might feel threatened and oppose the regular inclusion of kosher dogs at the stadium.
Farmer John may have a right to be concerned: During the 2002 season, Best's Kosher hot dogs outsold regular hot dogs nearly 3-1 at the White Sox's U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
Rosenberg said he supports the inclusion of the hot dog and doesn't think that their main advertiser would be too offended.
"Farmer John would not stand in our way if we choose to do so," he said.
Farmer John would not directly answer The Journal's questions as to whether the company is supportive of Aramark's future addition of a kosher hot dog.
As part of a prepared statement, Ron Smith, head of customer relations at Farmer John, wrote: "Over the years, this business decision [contract with the Dodgers] has allowed Farmer John to carve out an advantageous niche in Southern California. We are a household word due to years of advertising decisions and honored contracts."
According to one consultant, Farmer John is very influential in how competing hot dogs or sausages are brought in and marketed at the ballpark.
Johanna McCloy, founder of the vegetarian consumer advocacy group Soy Happy, claims that Farmer John initially resisted the introduction of a Yves Veggie Cuisine hot dog (which is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union) at Dodger Stadium in 2001.
Aramark eventually added the item, but Rosenberg said it hasn't performed well.
"We sell very few of them," he said.
McCloy told The Journal that it was difficult to get a competing hot dog added to the menu and that the process involved a bit of diplomacy. She said that due to Farmer John's contract with the Dodgers, Yves is unable to advertise its brand name at the park, and its hot dogs are only sold at the park's specialty stand -- Go Ahead And Make Your Dog -- at the highest possible price.
"Fans are not going to know [it's available]," she said. "I went through the media to get the word out."
However, if Aramark can find a way around its current facilities problem, Rosenberg said that Dodger fans could expect regular kosher hot dog service. The addition would make Dodger Stadium the 12th major league ballpark in the United States to offer kosher food.
"I think there's a market, and I'm open to proposals," he said. "We are looking at opportunities that are viable, fan-friendly, but still maintains kosher [standards]."