It was mid-June, and we were awash in the seasonal gloom when a box arrived at the editorial offices of the Coastline Pilot. Inside the box, nestled in brown and gold packing material, was an 18-karat gold wiener.
It also happened to be the week that former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) was being pilloried for sexting messages and photos of his, ahem, wiener, to a number of women all over the country.
FOR THE RECORD:
[An earlier version of this story misspelled Rep. Anthony Weiner's name.]
"Congratulations, Cindy!" a certificate sealed in an envelope declared. "You are a chosen recipient of Wienerschnitzel's 50th anniversary 18K Gold Wiener Tenna Topper.
"This genuine, limited edition, gold-plated wienie is a special gift to lettuce share how much we relish your participation in our year-long 50th anniversary celebration.
"We don't mean to sound cheesy, but we get positively giddy when we imagine our loyal fans cruising top-down during the hot, dog days of summer, with our golden wienies flying in the wind."
The Golden Wiener certainly broke up the June gloom that week, and I had to marvel at the advertising genius who came up with it.
Meet Melinda Morgan Kartsonis, a Laguna Beach resident who specializes in public relations for food establishments. Kartsonis, who is now celebrating 20 years in the business, works with high-brow and low-brow eateries, everything from Sapphire Laguna to Tastee Freez.
Kartsonis says that representing Irvine-based Wienerschnitzel requires a sense of humor.
"I've worked with wieners for 16 years now, and nothing surprises me anymore," she said.
Of the fact that her 18K gold wieners landed on editors' desks during "Weinergate," she laughed that, even though the golden wiener idea was hatched a year before, "I couldn't have prayed for better timing."
Weiner (the congressman) had to step down from his post, but that takes nothing away from Wienerschnitzel.
The Wienerschnitzel folks apparently don't mind taking a ribbing now and then.
"The company has a sense of humor," Kartsonis said.
One of the more amusing stunts that Kartsonis has organized for the hot dog company is a chili tug-of-war, in which students pull against each other over a vat of chili. The losing team ends up taking a bath in the company's signature sauce.
Kartsonis' business has flourished in food-crazy Orange County. She started out working from her home office in Tustin, and four years later moved to an office in Irvine. Six years ago, she built her "dream building," including a test kitchen for those clients who needed Kartsonis' expertise in developing new food items.
"I never thought I'd be an expert in beans, but now I am," she said.
That's due to her work with the Arizona Canning Co., a beanery that wanted help putting out a new line of canned beans. She helped them refine recipes for every kind of legume, including black-eyed peas.
Wienies and beans: Some foods are just funnier than others.
Another client who found themselves in need of the test kitchen was Chapter One: the Modern Local, a gastro-club in Santa Ana that boasts "farm to table" fare and a global beer and wine list.
When the restaurant was in the infancy stage, "They had no kitchen and the chef used our test kitchen to develop the menu," Kartsonis said.
Kartsonis moved to Laguna Beach in 2000 and loves it. She got married two years ago, and her husband moved into her home. At first he wasn't sure he would be happy in the beach town, but now he loves it, too.
"It's heaven on earth," Kartsonis says of the city.
While she shepherds fast-food clients' marketing campaigns and comes up with wacky promotional ideas to tickle editors' funny bones, Kartsonis also moves in some hefty foodie circles. She has been enrolled as a member of the invitation-only group of gourmets and gourmands Les Dames d'Escoffier, along with Julia Child, Alice Waters and M.F.K. Fisher.
It's nice to know that the woman who came up with the chili tug-of-war and the Golden Wiener is also able to talk gourmet turkey.
CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.