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No Esskay Orioles franks? Say it ain't so

“Our organization has made the difficult decision to discontinue Esskay hotdogs,” said Chad McFadden, Esskay brand manager for Smithfield Foods. (Baltimore Sun video)

It is with something more than extreme disappointment that I read the news of Smithfield Foods’ decision to cease production of Esskay Orioles Franks (“Esskay Orioles Franks — a Baltimore mainstay — to disappear soon from Camden Yards, store shelves,” Jan. 22). There are certain brands and products that, over the course of decades, come to encapsulate what it means to grow up in a given locale. They are transportive and transcendent triggers of communal memory. They are, in their own way, institutions. I would, without hesitation, include the Esskay Orioles Frank right alongside Old Bay, National Bohemian, and Utz Potato Chips in the pantheon of brands that have become indelibly imprinted upon the shared palate of Marylanders.

Who among us did not enjoy an Esskay Orioles Frank at their first major league baseball game? At a second grade birthday party? At a backyard cookout? Perhaps even more emotionally resonant is the eternal semantic and spiritual linking of Esskay hot dogs with our beloved Birds. One would be hard-pressed to find a Maryland native who did not, at one time or another, check their Esskay schedule for the time of that afternoon’s game, or sit upon an iconic Esskay stadium cushion, or pin their dog-eared baseball cards to an Esskay bulletin board that was handed to them upon entering Memorial Stadium. Who didn’t want to eat what Cal ate?

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I, myself, was actually compensated partly in Esskay Orioles Franks (two each game) when I worked for the Orioles as a teenager in the late 1980s, handing out giveaways during O’s games. As an expat now living in Connecticut, I have faced the unenviable challenge of raising my children (ages 9 and 11) as stalwart Orioles fans in a sea of Yankee and Red Sox rabble. Esskay Orioles Franks have been a badge of honor in our secret rebellion. Visits to Maryland often included smuggling a couple packages of our favorite hot dogs past the Mason Dixon line to tide us over until our next trip back home. As they have done for decades, Esskay Orioles Franks continue to link us together, even across generational and state lines.

Marylanders are a stoic and resilient people. Time and again we have absorbed crushing cultural body blows that would stop cold those made of lesser stuff — the shameful departure of the Colts, seeing Natty Boh brewed in North Carolina, even the 2018 baseball campaign. I say no more! Esskay Orioles Franks are iconic for Marylanders, Orioles fans, and (dare I say) consumers of good taste. We cannot quietly allow them to disappear.

Brand loyalty is a tricky thing, and the people of Maryland have shown an extreme willingness to embrace companies and brands that hold their hearts, even those that are no longer truly “of Maryland” (I’m looking at you, Mr. Boh). If Esskay and its parent company truly aspire for continued success in Maryland, perhaps they should look to better market, leverage and distribute the most iconic products in their lineup rather than abandoning them. I implore Smithfield Foods to reassess a wrong decision that cuts to the heart of our very ethos as Marylanders.

John Harrington, Norwalk, Conn.

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