The city of Chicago can be defined in a culinary sense by its pizza and its hot dogs. This is why Rosati's Pizza and its longtime partner Vienna Beef spent two years developing a new menu item that combines the two flavors.
Rosati's Chili Cheese Dog Pizza is now in test at four stores. The chain will gradually roll it out systemwide in the next three months and will feature it as a limited time offer. At its Carpentersville, Ill., unit, the new pizza is the top selling item on the lunch buffet, according to Rosati's president Marla Topliff.
The Chili Cheese Dog Pizza is available in two versions: regular and spicy, or "Some Like It Hot."
The regular includes a special chili mix with Rosati's Pizza Sauce as the base, a two cheese mixture of mozzarella and cheddar, specialty Vienna Beef sausage, and grilled onions.
The Some Like It Hot includes jalapeno cheddar sausage and jalapenos.
Rosati's and Vienna Beef attempted to create a regular Chicago Dog pizza as well, but after numerous attempts to cook the relish just right, they realized it wouldn't work.
The idea to combine the two Chicago staples came from Jim Locaciato, Vienna's director of national accounts Midwest.
"He came to us and said we've both got something uniquely Chicago, why don't we try this? My reaction was 'wow, great idea,'" Topliff said.
Eliot Kaufman, vice president of sales sat Vienna Sausage Manufacturing Company, said the concept took two years to develop because the companies wanted to get it just right – to ensure it tasted exactly like a chili cheese hot dog found on street corners all over the city throughout the summer. This required testing the sauce blend, the way the sausage was cut, the sausage size, the amount of onions, etc.
As Topliff explained, it had to be the perfect ratio of hot dog to pizza and pizza to hot dog.
"We played with it until it tasted authentic. Other companies have played with this concept, but didn't officially launch it. This is the first time we've ever spent this much time and effort on this big of a launch," Kaufman said.
Topliff added that customers need to taste it to believe it.
"It really does taste exactly like a chili cheese hot dog you'd get on any street corner in Chicago. When we presented it to David Rosati, he asked me 'do you really want me to eat a chili cheese dog pizza?' Then he took one bite of it and it went on the menu," Topliff said.
She added that the product, once rolled out systemwide, will better position Rosati's as part of the localized food trend.
"Right now, people are looking for specialized, hyperlocal or local flavors instead of something cookie cutter. Local flavors are on trend right now and this is a real hometown item that is on that trend, and it uses local products," Topliff said. "We're showing out customers how engrossed we are in Chicago. If we're a Chicago tradition, we'd better be doing Chicago pizza."
Vienna, also based out of Chicago, will be co-branded on the new item, and is creating special box toppers for Rosati's as it launches. The pizza chain will complement the rollout by marketing to its own customers, as well as with an email marketing strategy. The bulk of the launch will come in July to complement National Hot Dog Month.
Kaufman is optimistic about the launch.
"As soon as it hits 60 degrees in Chicago and stays hot through the summer, hot dog sales skyrocket. This will too," he said.
Vienna products have been on Rosati's menu since the 1970s, when hot dogs made their debut at the chain.
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