What do the words gourmet, epicure, gastronome, Dom Perignon and hot dog have in common? Nothing . . . unless you're at Leslie Uggams' Wiener Factory in the San Fernando Valley.
At a press conference early last week, where the strategy for a fund-raising festival for sickle-cell anemia was unveiled, it was announced that the entertainer would be among the concessionaires. Her specialty, it was explained, is gourmet hot dogs, served gloriously alongside what else but Champagne?
Celebrities to Participate
Uggams is just one of the many scheduled participants for the Magnum Soul Food Festival '85, designed to showcase black food, culture and arts. The festival will be sponsored by the Miller Brewing Co., the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles and Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken and Biscuits for the National Assn. for Sickle Cell Disease. Celebrities such as Thelma Hopkins (co-star of television's "Gimme a Break"), Taurean Blacque of "Hill Street Blues," Melba Moore and singer Bill Withers will be among those on hand to either entertain or judge a soul food contest.
Alecia Molezion, spokeswoman for the fund-raising fete explained: "There is currently no ongoing, annual event in Los Angeles that specifically showcases black American culture. That's what we want the soul food festival to become. Miller Brewing Co. became the sponsor because it wanted to tie in with a viable, nonprofit organization like NASCD, which would reap benefits from the event as well as provide the cultural vehicle."
She said that the event will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday at Jackie Robinson Stadium, 5001 Rodeo Road, Los Angeles, a facility that will house about 50 booths featuring arts and crafts, public information, record company and corporate promotions and food vendors.
There will be a booth featuring the Southern specialties found at Aunt Kizzy's Back Porch restaurant in Marina del Rey; other booths will have samples of some of the best barbecue in town.
All of this in addition to Uggams' hot dog booth and its plan to sell gourmet hot dogs. Unfortunately the hot dogs will be sold without Champagne at the festival. If you want to sample the combination as Uggams' likes it, you'll have to visit the Wiener Factory.
A Hot Dog Lover
It seems that Uggams, a native New Yorker, loves hot dogs and used to drive some 25 minutes from her Beverly Hills home just for one of the specialty dogs available at a hot dog stand in Sherman Oaks called the Wiener Factory.
"We liked the hot dogs at this particular place so much that it became a ritual. . . . We were there on weekends," Uggams said in a telephone interview. "We naturally came to realize that if we thought the Wiener Factory hot dogs were good enough to go that far out of our way to enjoy them in fun surroundings, then there ought to be more Wiener Factory restaurants."
So she formed a new company, called KISS, which stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid, with Scott Matis, original owner of the Sherman Oaks Factory. Together they opened a second Wiener Factory in a new location on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills.
A customer's mind begins conjuring up visions of a trendy little spot--typical of Ventura Boulevard--probably sparkling white with boldly colored, ultramodern tables, chairs and bar stools and many hanging plants. Forget such conjecture.
The celebrated little hot dog stand is just that; a tiny fast food takeout with a few tables and chairs, a lunch counter and graffiti--everywhere. Neat little sayings, scribbled on the walls to provide East Coast authenticity by Matis. Comments such as "We only use natural chemicals in our food" and "Please tell us how long to hold the onions" abound. It also has plants, a patio and a small room in the back with a fireplace and a television for sports fans.
But what was impressive, surprisingly so, were the hot dogs. They were good kosher-style hot dogs with a firm, fresh taste. According to Matis, the hot dogs are steamed Eastern-style rather than grilled and served with a variety of trimmings, ranging from typical chili and onions to red cabbage and cheese, each for about $1.40 to $1.75.
The restaurant also offers sausage dogs at a slightly higher price--European knackwurst, spicy polish dogs and mild polish dogs--all topped with chili, sauerkraut or mustard, relish and onions. The Champagne ranges from $1.75 a glass of the house brand to $12 for a bottle of Korbel Brut. Unless, of course, you live it up and go to the Wiener Factory for the Champagne brunch: 1976 Dom Perignon, four 1/4-pound sausage dogs and four salads, all for $75.
All of the hot dogs and trimmings on the Wiener Factory's bill of fare will be available at the festival, even though the Champagne won't. Profits from the booth sales will go to NASCD to further sickle cell research, education, screening and service programs, Uggams said. She has agreed to judge the soul food contest, "Who could turn down being a judge tasting soul food? I'm going to have a great day just being there, involved with the black community. It's terrific. When you get so much . . . you give it back."