They just want kosher Dodger Dogs

If kosher-observant L.A. Dodgers fans want to buy a hot dog at a game, they’re out of luck: Dodger Stadium doesn’t sell kosher hot dogs.

Hoping to change that, a scrappy group of Dodgers season ticketholders is making every effort to get a concession to sell fresh kosher dogs at the stadium. Calling themselves the Lou Barak Memorial Kosher Hot Dog Committee (named in honor of group founder Paul Cunningham’s late father-in-law), the group’s members, made up of six accomplished professionals, have been working for more than a decade on the issue.

“We are really just a group of people who feel very strongly that the second-largest Jewish community in the country should have the ability to eat a Jewish hot dog at a ballgame — given that so many other ballparks around the country have that option,” committee member and attorney Stuart Tochner said.

To be fair, Dodger Stadium sells kosher sandwiches, including a turkey-pastrami sandwich and a tuna salad sandwich that are premade and delivered to the stadium at least twice a week by Emuna Foods, a Van Nuys-based kosher catering company. These are sold at the Club Marketplace, a grab-and-go station behind home plate on the field level.

Only on the annual Jewish Community Day, which this year takes place on July 15, does the stadium sell kosher hot dogs. On the morning of the game, Emuna Foods delivers the precooked dogs to the stadium, and then they are reheated during game time and sold at locations throughout the stadium, according to Eric Boujo, who oversees Jewish Community Day as group sales account executive at Dodger Stadium.

But kosher Dodgers fans who want a hot dog at any regular home game have to stop at a kosher restaurant on the way to a game for takeout to bring into the stadium. Ballpark security allows ticketholders to bring in their own food, but at least for this group, the by-then lukewarm (at best) dogs don’t cut it. So they’re hoping the Dodgers’ new owners will make a difference.

In the past, the committee has reached out both to previous Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and to food vendor Aramark, the company that was once responsible for all concessions at the stadium.

“Through Dodger front office and Aramark sources, we’ve been given a number of reasons why, operationally, having kosher hot dogs isn’t workable — a need for separate storage and preparation facilities, existing concession contracts, etc.,” committee member Steve Getzug, a public relations executive, said.

The Dodgers’ new president and part-owner, Stan Kasten. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Farmer John provides the Dodgers with their signature dogs, but it doesn’t produce a kosher option.

No one can deny the popularity of the Farmer John pork-laden Dodger Dog, or its all-beef, but still non-kosher, alternative. A report from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, a project of the American Meat Institute, which provides data, research and recipes to food manufacturers and reporters, states that the Dodger Dog was the No. 1 best-selling Major League Baseball ballpark hot dog in 2011, and it is expected to be the fourth-highest-selling this year.

But the Lou Barak Memorial Kosher Hot Dog Committee has no intention of trying to oust the classic Dodger Dog. “We’re not suggesting that the renowned Dodger Dogs supplied by Farmer John be replaced,” Cunningham wrote in a letter to McCourt in 2004.

McCourt did not respond. “It just sort of fell into the ether,” Tochner said.

Jewish community ties to the Dodgers date back to the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, when the team’s hometown — Brooklyn, N.Y. — was predominantly Jewish. During the 1965 World Series, when Sandy Koufax refused to play on Yom Kippur, Jews further galvanized behind the team. And, when all-star player Shawn Green joined the L.A. version of the team in 2000, Jews rejoiced.

Michael Berenbaum, professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University, has joined the committee in its quest for kosher dogs.

“The Dodgers offer Chinese food and Italian food and even ‘healthy food,’ ” Berenbaum wrote in a recent Jewish Journal op-ed.

So, why not kosher hot dogs?

Hebrew National hot dogs are served at the park, but for Jews who are strict in their kosher observance, Hebrew National is treif. In fact, the company currently is facing a lawsuit accusing it of unkosher practices.

So, will the Dodgers’ new owners — known, promisingly, as Guggenheim Baseball Management — be any more helpful? The new management team includes basketball legend Magic Johnson; Mark Walter, chief executive of the investment firm Guggenheim Partners; Todd Boehly, president of Guggenheim Partners; Peter Guber, chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group; Stan Kasten, former president of the Major League Baseball team the Washington Nationals; and Bobby Patten, an oil investor.

The committee has reason to be hopeful: Kasten has said he is working on bringing kosher hot dogs to Dodger Stadium, according to a May 2 tweet by Los Angeles Times’ baseball reporter Bill Shaikin.

Representatives for Guggenheim Baseball Management did not return calls for comment requesting verification of Shaikin’s tweet. However, Chad Vosler, regional purchasing manager for Levy Restaurants — which took over Aramark’s concessions contract at Dodger Stadium in 2005 — said Levy Restaurants would “absolutely” like to bring kosher hot dogs to the ballpark.

It’s just a matter of how.

The Dodgers could follow the lead of other baseball stadiums. At the New York Mets’ Citi Field, for example, there are pushcarts where kosher dogs are grilled and sold. At Miami’s Marlins Park, a kosher concession stand is integrated into the structure of the stadium. And at the Red Sox’s Fenway Park, vending machines refrigerate, cook and dispense kosher
hot dogs.

Vosler said the kosher vending machines, made by the company Hot Nosh Boston, might be a possibility for Dodger Stadium, as a vending machine would be less intrusive to the 50-year-old stadium’s structure than making structural adjustments in order to accommodate an integrated concession stand. “It’s something we really want to try in Los Angeles,” he added.

As for the tweet about Kasten’s plans, the hot dog committee is aware of it and is currently drafting a letter to Kasten.

Time will tell if this outreach to the new management leads to anything. But as kosher foods become increasingly popular, even among non-Jews, the economic benefits of carrying kosher dogs are becoming more apparent, according to Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Marketing, which specializes in the kosher market.

Not that kosher dogs’ crossover appeal would threaten sales of the Dodger Dog, added Lubinsky, who also serves as editor of the trade newsletter “It’s not significant enough to make a dent in their sales, and it’s not a competition, in the sense that there are no alternatives for people who absolutely must have kosher,” he said.

Although there’s no kosher hot dog permanently stocked at the stadium, the 2012 Dodgers season marks the first season that the club carries kosher items. Attending a recent summer game against the Mets, Getzug tried out the kosher turkey-pastrami sandwich. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough, he wrote in an e-mail.

“The sandwich hit the spot (served up with a pasta salad) but it’s not a kosher hot dog.”