Oscar Mayer gone, but Wienermobile rolls on
The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile still calls Madison home, and for UW grad Dominic Ricci, one of 12 hotdoggers, or drivers, it's the best post-college gig he could have asked for.
While the last Oscar Mayer meats may have rolled down the assembly line at the company’s now-shuttered Madison plant on June 29, 2017, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile still calls Madison home.
Don’t be too surprised if you don’t see the iconic Wienermobile winding its way around the Capitol Square though. The six Wienermobiles are nearly always on the road, traveling across the United States about 340 days a year.
The drivers of the Wienermobile — known as Hotdoggers — are full-time employees of Kraft Heinz, parent company of Oscar Mayer.
Hotdogger Dominic Ricci, a native of Brookfield and a recent University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate with a business degree in marketing, has been driving since June.
This is Ricci’s first job out of college, and it’s a natural fit for the marketing major. “No day is the same with the Wienermobile, but some of our responsibilities are doing events such as hanging out at a grocery store, being in a parade, or attending a festival or fair. We also pitch all of our own media as a team, so it’s like we’re running our own public relations firm on wheels.
Some of Hotdogger Dominc Ricci's photos from the road.
“I relish every moment on the hot dog highways of America through the windshield of the Wienermobile,” Ricci adds. That’s not the last hot dog-related pun Ricci will utter. It comes with the territory.
“Dijon Dom,” as he says he’s become known, was recruited along with his fellow Hotdoggers from UW–Madison. Once selected, the Hotdoggers must complete a two-week training session at “Hot Dog High,” where they receive their “bundergraduate” degree in “meateorology” before they hit the road in the Wienermobile.
“Twelve people every year cut the mustard and are selected to be a Hotdogger for one year,” notes Ricci.
Once they graduate, the Hotdoggers spend the majority of their time in different parts of the country, bringing miles of smiles to the people they encounter.
“The best part of the Wienermobile is that every single day we have the ability and opportunity to make someone smile and completely make their day,” Ricci says. “The Wienermobile has been around for 82 years so it is quite the tradition. We have people come to our events saying they remember when they saw the Wienermobile when they were six years old and now they are 66. It is incredibly surreal and humbling to be able to create so much happiness day in and day out.”
Ricci’s favorite memory so far in his time with the Wienermobile came when he wasn’t even working. He says he and his partner were just hanging out at the hotel they were staying at for the night when a woman approached and told them about a local dog café that brings in dogs from the area humane society every Saturday and offers patrons food and drinks in the hopes of getting some of the dogs adopted.
Ricci liked the idea and said he’d love to stop over with the Wienermobile. He asked if the woman would like to come with so she didn’t have to drive.
“She was ecstatic to be able to sit ‘shotbun’ and get a ride,” says Ricci. “We were headed to the dog café, getting to know each other, when I asked what she was doing in town. Sparing some details, she was there for a very unfortunate family situation. I changed the subject and talked more about the job and how we were about to see some dogs. The evening was so much fun and I was so glad I brought the Wienermobile. It was not until a couple days later this same woman came up to me and said how grateful she was that I was able to provide a sprinkle of happiness in an overall terrible week. This really put into perspective how special and incredible this job is, and just how grateful I am for it.”
Ricci says despite the Wienermobile’s size — 27 feet long, 11 feet high, and 8 feet wide, or 60 hot dogs long, 24 hot dogs high, and 14 hot dogs wide if you want to use the “meatric” system — mishaps on the road aren’t common. “We have extensive training from the Madison Police Department, so we are very careful not to scratch our buns.”
The Wienermobile has also made to it to all 50 states. Most recently it made an appearance in Whittier, Alaska, which is known as the “most remote town in America.” As seen in the video below, the Wienermobile traveled by barge to Alaska.
You might think spending so much time in the Wienermobile would get a little stale, but Ricci says that’s not the case.
Wienermobile Fun Facts
“We’ve had people drive for hours to come see us, as well as follow us off the highway when we get gas. Everyone is so excited to see the Wienermobile and get a wiener whistle. You never know who you’re going to ‘meat’!”
It’s also fair to ask if Ricci ever gets sick of hot dogs, given how much time he spends driving around in an oversized one.
“I love hot dogs,” he replies enthusiastically. “Personally I just like classic ketchup on my hot dog, although I have been dabbling with mustard. I am very open to trying anything on a hot dog, so any new ideas anyone might have, pass them along!”
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