The Call Of The Hot Dog Man

With TikTok videos going viral, hot dog vendors are the life of the ballgame.

"A good vendor is an entertainer as well as a salesman," says Antonio Acevedo, a hot dog hawker who works at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. And if anyone knows what they're talking about, it's him.

On National Hot Dog Day (July 19), the Chicago Cubs posted a video to TikTok that quickly went viral. It begins with ballpark vendor Jonah Fialkow explaining that "Hot dog vending is an art." What follows is a small sample of Wrigley Field's hot dog crew, each announcing their wares in their own signature style.

The calls are fun and strangely compelling, kind of like if the Sirens were sweaty American slingers of forcemeat. But it's Antonio's call that pushes the video from good to great: His scream is startlingly loud and urgent, easy to mistake for rage, except for the smallest hint of a grin pulling up the sides of his mouth. Almost all of the TikTok video's comments are in praise of Antonio, with many viewers demanding Antonio's scream on its own video loop.

Performing with the gusto of a captivating lead singer, Antonio commands your full attention. It's hard to take your eyes (or ears) off him. Is he the greatest hot dog vendor Major League Baseball has ever seen?

The challenge of selling food at the ballpark

Vendors are only as successful as the attention they can command, and there's a lot to compete with at a ball game: the gameplay itself, flashing video boards, announcers' booming commentary, foul balls, the organist, rowdy fans, and of course, the other vendors, each yelling that they've got hot dogs and beer and cotton candy. It pays to have a loud, distinct call, one that startles fans from their reverie and makes them realize they do, in fact, want a hot dog right now.

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Antonio Acevedo, as the world now knows, has all the skills needed to succeed. And while he's been surprised by the TikTok video's viral popularity, he understands why people have been drawn to his hot dog call.

"You try to make [your call] as fun and funny as possible," he tells The Takeout. "But I've been quite stunned by it. I've been doing this for so long, and I've been doing it the same way since I've been vending, hollering like that."

How great ballpark vendors are born

Acevedo's been a Wrigley Field hot dog vendor for more than two decades, beginning his tenure in 2001. He explains he was initially drawn to the profession out of a love for the game.

"As a child, I had a dream of being a major league baseball player, like probably tens of millions of other kids, but nowhere near the ability," he says. "[Vending is] a wonderful, wonderful job. Very physically demanding, but wonderful."

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Ironically, Acevedo grew up a Chicago White Sox fan, not a Cubs fan, and he would have once considered himself treasonous for working with the crosstown Cubs. He recalls that as a kid, he "couldn't stand the Cubs."

"But you know, as I grew older and more mature, and I got to work at Wrigley, I converted," he adds. "I love those fans, I have great respect for them. They're uniquely wonderful people."

Jonah Fialkow, meanwhile, has always been a Cubs fan, having grown up in Chicago's northern suburbs. He started working the stands eight years ago. More recently, he began filming his days on the job in a TikTok series he calls "Day in the Life of a Wrigley Field Vendor." The idea was to shine a light on an overlooked yet crucial aspect of Wrigley Field's gameday ambiance.

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"Vending is such an integral part of a baseball game, especially at Wrigley where you have so much history," says Fialkow. "No one's been at Wrigley longer than the vendors... the vendors have seen Wrigley grow and seen Chicago and Wrigleyville expand, and I think that's why I wanted to start making videos, to show the humanity behind the people that sell you beer and hot dogs. They're such an important part of Wrigley's history."

How ballpark vendors design their calls

A vendor has to be clever if they want to succeed in a job where commission is king. A day for a Wrigley Field vendor begins with choosing which product to stock up on for the game. This is decided by seniority: Veteran vendors get first dibs, with beer and hot dogs being the big-ticket items. But that doesn't mean other products don't sell; it just takes some entrepreneurial spirit.

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"I think of myself as like a meteorologist before the game," says Fialkow. "If it's a 60-70 degree day in April or May, people don't think that's cold enough [to sell] hot chocolate. But at Wrigley, if the wind is blowing in from the north, it's totally different than if the wind is blowing out to center field. I'm checking the weather and the humidity and the wind direction, and then I'll pick a product based on that." Antonio, meanwhile, likes to stick with the tried-and-true hot dogs, although on especially hot days he might switch it up and sell lemon chill.

Regarding his specific hot dog call, Jonah explains why he starts with the "eyyy" sound first ("eyy-yat-dogs!"), one designed to get people's attention: "I don't know why it came to be, but it stuck," he says. "It kind of sounds more like I'm saying 'yacht dog' than anything. I don't know why that's my specific call, but that will be my call forever."

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For beer, Jonah changes his call a bit. "Whenever I sell alcohol, I always end my call with, 'Who's ready?' I'll say, 'Bud, Bud Light, Michelob, who's ready beer?' 'Seltzer, shandy, who's ready?' Frozen margaritas is the same: 'Who's ready for margs?' You'd be alarmed at how many people it will click for. They'll be like, oh, I'm ready."

But some aspects of a good call are simpler. For instance, you have to be loud.

"You gotta let people know you're there," says Acevedo. "And you gotta try to make it funny. So you go with a high pitch or a deeper pitch, try to get their attention."

"No one's louder than Antonio," Fialkow says. "It's unbelievable. You can hear him on the broadcast. You can hear him on the radio. There's another guy named David—I love his hot dog call. He goes, 'Hot dogs, yep!' and it echoes through the ballpark."

How ballpark vendors’ jobs are changing

While roaming vendors are a cornerstone of America's pastime, the job has changed in recent years. Stadiums are moving toward cashless transactions, which means vendors are working with POS systems instead of relaying change up and down the rows. There is also a new process where fans can order food directly to their seats, which is then delivered by vendors. It's ultimately the same—vendors bringing food to fans—but as technology creeps its way into food and beverage sales, there is some worry that vendors might lose their unique sales pitches and instead become conveyer belts from kitchen to smartphone.

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While Fialkow doesn't worry too much about the card machines, he concedes that the gig is changing. "I've heard of a few ballparks that have gotten rid of seat vending, and I think it's a big miss," he says. "I would be very disappointed if we ever went away from vending because I think it is such an important part of the sport and this stadium."

Vendors don't work in the bleachers, plus some new seating sections have built food and drink costs into the ticket price, eliminating the need for vendors altogether in those areas.

"I fear that maybe in the not too distant future, perhaps vending will not exist anymore," Acevedo says. "I don't have anything to base that on except the fact that there's more vendors but less places to sell. Maybe in time, it'll all be mobile orders, where vendors deliver the food as opposed to hawking it. I hope it doesn't go that route. I wouldn't enjoy it as much."

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But one could also argue that roaming vendors have greater value now than they ever have. Major League Baseball has introduced measures to speed up its pace of play, with new rules like the pitch clock having cut down game times. Under these new rules, if spectators decide to leave their seats and hit the concourse for beer and dogs, they're almost guaranteed to miss a chunk of the next inning. In-game vendors solve this issue.

"My message to all the fans is, let us do our jobs," Fialkow says. "We'll come to you. You watch as much of the game as you can. And we'll make sure you're fed and hydrated."

The Cubs didn't have high expectations for 2023, and the team has been mediocre for much of the season. But in late July, the Cubs won eight straight games, and by the August 1 trade deadline, the team became a "buyer," a decision made by ownership signaling they believed the Cubs could compete this year instead of kicking the can down the road to next. There's a giddy energy in the stands these days, and emotions are running high; games have taken on a playoff-level intensity as the fan base comes around to the idea that this team, this year, is special.

Hot dog vendors have a vested interest in the Cubs' success; more wins mean more butts in seats. But vendors are rooting for the team just like the paying fans are. Count Acevedo as a fellow believer.

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"I think that the Cubs are gonna make a lot of noise before it's over," he says. "They are right in the thick of things."

For now, the Cubs are still fighting for a playoff spot. As the season heads into its final stretch, Wrigley Field is sure to be buzzing with anticipation and appetite. No one knows this better than the hot dog vendors, who are prepared to find every fan who needs them, screaming their heads off along the way.

 

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