In the mid-nineteenth century, the East Side of Buffalo was home
to many stockyards with accompanying slaughterhouses specializing
in beef and pork butchery. This location was ideal for Joseph Sahlen’s
slaughterhouse and meat processing company, perfectly situated between
the stockyards, the Erie Canal, and the New York Central railroad tracks
that brought livestock into Buffalo and took meat cuts out.
Back then, the stockyards were so close to the 318 Howard
slaughterhouse that the animals could be driven down the street to
the processor live and on hoof. This continued until the mid-twentieth
century, when Sahlen’s began to use already-slaughtered sides of beef and
Throughout its history, Sahlen’s has made a wide assortment of
sausages, including hot dogs. But it wasn’t until the fifties that the
formulating, perfecting, and finalizing of its famous hot dog recipe took
place. What makes that recipe special and different from most? According
to the team at Sahlen’s, it’s the use of high-quality whole ingredients. That
means no fillers, additives, or mechanically separated chicken (a cheap
ingredient found in most hot dogs). It helps that the recipe produces a
mildly flavored and tender hot dog sure to please most any palate.
According to Sahlen’s, that recipe remains relatively unchanged
today, and it’s garnered favor well beyond Western New York. Over the
past decade or so, Sahlen’s has found a foothold in markets with a heavy
predisposition for Sahlen’s love: Rochester, North Carolina, Florida, and
Arizona. There, the one-pound deli bag of signature dogs reigns supreme,
though Buffalonians, who eat more hot dogs than any other area of the
country, tend to prefer the three-pound bag.
The company produces thirty-five million hot dogs a year, but it’s
important to note that it does more than make hot dogs. Sahlen’s deli
meat business is large enough that the company has added a second
building to its facility. Today, it produces several types of sandwich meat,
including several popular ham varieties, as well as Braunschwieger, a
German-style sausage often confused with liverwurst.
Operator Joe E. Sahlen, great-grandson of the company’s founder,
functions as company CEO, though he’ll tell you he’s not really one for
titles. “I regret the fact that we carried a large variety of cold cuts and
sausages until the seventies, but phased out many products that I loved
as a youth,” he says. “Getting those spices isn’t easy anymore and making
that many different items just isn’t practical.”
Never one to let the company lag behind a trend, Sahlen quickly
points out that the company is building a test kitchen, a perfect
illustration of his credo about adapting to the ever-changing marketplace.
“There we’ll be able to do some specialized processing for new products,
like certain deli meats, older recipes from when I was a kid, or even
Did someone say bacon?
When asked about the company’s long-term success, Sahlen remarks,
“To help facilitate longevity, you have to embrace technology and
recognize and adapt to changes in the marketplace. Our competitiveness
and our desire to constantly improve helps too. We’re also efficient;
there’s a reason behind everything we do in our plant and as a business.
Nothing here happens just by chance; every process and every step of
every process is fundamental.”
B Y CHRISTA SEYCHE W
HOT DOG HEAVEN
Above: Vintage images show
production at Sahlen’s in past decades.
At right: Joe E. Sahlen, Bill Sahlen, and