Who let these hot dogs in? Ravens lose Esskay for Dietz & Watson

The Baltimore Ravens have a signed new a hot dog supplier — from Philly.

Esskay is out, Dietz & Watson is in.

Esskay, founded in Baltimore in 1858, has been serving dogs at Ravens concession stands since the stadium opened in 1998. But Philadelphia-based Dietz & Watson just landed the three-year contract.

The concession change has brought as much attention to hot dogging as Ray Lewis' last pre-game introduction. By punting the perceived hometown frank, the Ravens risk inciting Baltimoreans to the point that they resemble their famously unruly counterparts in Philly.

But so far, reaction to the dog trade has been fairly muted.

"I had one of the new dogs at the Ravens-Giants preseason game," said Barry Coleman of Richmond, Va., who has attended Ravens and Orioles games for years. "I always enjoyed Esskay hot dogs and looked forward to coming to Baltimore to eat them since we can't get them in Richmond. I noticed right away on Saturday night that something was different. … The hot dog was OK but not as good as a Esskay dog to me."

Esskay is an old name in hot dogs in Baltimore, but before local food chauvinists get too worked up, it's worth noting that the company was acquired by Smithfield Foods in 1985. The Esskay dogs long sold at Ravens games — and still sold at Orioles, Aberdeen IronBirds and Naval Academy games — were actually made in Virginia.

Esskay still has a plant in Landover and a marketing office in Baltimore, however. And the company still thinks of itself as the hometown favorite.

"It's unfortunate," said Dave McLaughlin, general manager of Esskay's Baltimore sales division. "Hopefully, it's just a short-term deal and we'll have an opportunity to go back in there."

Steve Riley, marketing director for Dietz & Watson, said the team approached his company, which is also hot dog purveyor to the Eagles and other sports teams.

Even though it's a Philadelphia-based company, Dietz & Watson employs people at the former Parks Sausage Co. plant in Baltimore, Riley noted.

"We have a big plant right there in Baltimore and we do all our poultry there," he said. "We employ probably more than 300 people."

The dogs, however, are made in Philly.

The deal between the Ravens and Dietz & Watson entitles the hot dog maker to plaster the team logo on packaging for its supermarket products, said Kevin Rochlitz, vice president of national sales and partnerships for the Ravens. Concession booth signage will note the Dietz & Watson brand.

The Ravens approached several companies about the hot dog contract, but Rochlitz said it was not because the team was dissatisfied with Esskay dogs.

"There was no dissatisfaction at all," he said. "They've been a great partner of the Ravens. I think it was an opportunity where Dietz & Watson wanted to do more in this area and it was an opportunity to get them on board."

The price of the dogs will go up a bit this year, but don't blame Dietz & Watson, said Joe Arena, who directs concessions for Aramark at M&T Bank Stadium. Stadium menu prices went up across the board. This is the first price increase for hot dogs since 2003, he said.

Regular hot dogs will be $4.50, up from $4. Jumbo quarter-pound dogs will set fans back $5.50, up from $5.

Arena spoke highly of the Dietz & Watson dogs.

"Hot dogs all taste different from brand to brand," he said. "They do have different flavor profiles. Dietz & Watson has a great reputation in this region and we're real excited to have their dogs at the table."


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