Pam Uslander, better known as The Hot Dog Lady of Elmhurst, can’t believe 20 years are soon approaching since she first parked her hot dog vending cart in downtown Elmhurst. Now thousands of hot dogs later and Uslander is still filling tummies and tantalizing taste buds with her own take on a Chicago-style hot dog. Diners can visit the business all-year round with its space at Yorktown Mall’s Food Court in Lombard, with its expanded menu that includes chicken or beef gyros, Italian sausage and fried pickles. But Uslander says people can still catch her hot dog cart parked in downtown Elmhurst from spring through early fall.
What has it been like to have a hot dog cart in downtown Elmhurst? I would always pray for an early spring. Sometimes it would still be snowing in April. … I’d open April through October in downtown Elmhurst and each year, I would do the Halloween walk for the kids. They’d have free movies and trick-or-treating downtown for the kids, and I would make Halloween my last night (of the season). I was able to live off that all those years. I’m not driving a Ferrari or anything like that, but I was able to make a living.
Who or what inspired you to open your hot dog business? My grandparents had a hot dog place in Chicago at North and Ashland Avenues. They lived over the hot dog place, which is how Chicago was at the time. … When I was little, my mother and father were in the entertainment business, and they worked a lot of evenings. … So I was at my grandmother’s all the time, but we were upstairs. But I’d always run downstairs with my grandfather who was working. … I just loved being downstairs with him. I don’t know why, but I just found it fascinating. I just wanted to be down there, and I was only about 6 or 7 years old. My grandfather was fast and great with people.
How did you get the name Hot Dog Lady? When I started off, I think I picked Hot Diggity Dog or something dumb like that. And the school buses used to go by in town, and (the children) used to yell out the window. They used to always yell, ‘Hey, Hot Dog Lady.’ And I said, ‘You know what? That’s it. I’m switching the name.’
Your version of a Chicago-style hot dog is a little different. What do you put on your hot dogs? On Saturdays in Chicago, we’d be on Milwaukee Avenue and the hot dog vendors would be there. And there was one guy who (had his own hot dog style), and I used how he made his hot dogs to make my own. He never put a dill pickle on it; I liked his touch with the cucumber, so that’s what I do. And then, of course, the celery salt, plus he didn’t use poppy seed buns, and I don’t either. So I’m making my hot dogs the way this man did on Milwaukee Avenue, like 50 years ago: mustard, piccalilli, onion, cucumber, tomato, sport peppers and celery salt.
Any plans to celebrate the 20-year-old business? The first thing I plan to do is update the website for 2011, and then I plan to have an anniversary special, but I won’t reveal what that is yet. But it will probably be in June.