The rise and almost fall of the hot dog in Mexico

articles Travel & Destinations

Ruth Ross-Merrimer

In 1943 a couple of young American entrepreneurs attending a bullfight in Mexico and observing the crowd that filled the stadium, hit on the idea that they could become millionaires by introducing the hot dog to bullfight fans in Mexico. They reasoned that if hot dogs were such a hit with baseball fans in America, they would also go over big with bullfight fans in Mexico.

After a year of haggling with the Mexican bureaucracy for permission to set up a hot dog stand in a Mexico City bullring, the young millionaires-to-be discovered to their dismay that Mexico had no molds to form hot dog buns, and worse yet, no one in Mexico’s food industry knew anything about the art of making hot dogs. Undaunted, they made their way back through Mexico’s convoluted legal system for permission to import the equipment and technology from the United States.

Another year passed while they waited for the permissions to be granted. When they finally got the green light to proceed, they built a hot dog manufacturing plant and staffed it with Mexicans who trained under hot dog experts from the United States. Six months and thousands of dollars later, the impresarios lowered their ambitions from making a million to just getting back their investment.

At last, in 1945 with the opening of Mexico City’s newest bullfight ring Plaza Mexico, they were ready to introduce their product to the fans.

A crew of white-coated boys with trays of hot dogs, mustard and relish were sent out among what was later described as the largest bullfight crowd in Mexico City’s history. Printed on sides of trays were the words Perros Caliente, which to most of the Mexicans who had never seen or heard of a hot dog, meant cooked dog meat, not the tidbit one puts between a bun.

As soon as the bullfight fans got a look at the lettering on the trays, all hell broke loose. Shouting curses they seized the trays, flinging hot dogs, mustard and relish in all directions, then they turned on the terrified young vendors, beating and cursing them for selling the filthy meat of gringo dogs to their countrymen.

Meanwhile, choosing to live and fight another day, the Americans left the arena inconspicuously through a service entrance.

Still, despite this major setback, the Americans did not give up their dream. They started an advertising campaign to educate the Mexicans about hot dogs and continued to manufacture them and entice young Mexicans to hawk them. Gradually, bullfight fans were won over and started buying them.

Today, Perros Caliente are served routinely in homes, restaurants, and in sidewalk stands throughout the country, and are as popular in bullfight and rodeo rings as tacos and tortillas.

As to the Americans who started the trend, with the money earned from the sale of their hot dog business, they traveled the world. When last heard of they were living the good life, alternating between homes in Monaco and on the French Riviera.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2006 by Ruth Ross-Merrimer © 2008
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