Local 4 News got to ketchup with the iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile Friday morning, and two super friendly Hotdoggers, who clearly attack their job with relish.
The 27-foot-long hot dog on wheels is in the Quad Cities this weekend, and the two young staffers who are touring the Midwest first parked outside the Hy-Vee at 53rd Street and Utica Ridge in Davenport, offering big smiles, lots of puns and a spin at a wheel to win Oscar Mayer-themed prizes (including hats, tote bags, “wiener whistles,” stickers, and coupons for Oscar Mayer bacon, lunch meat and hot dogs.
“If I’m feeling a little crazy, sometimes I’ll put a little bacon on my dog,” Hotdogger Kaitlyn Bross (who goes by “Ketchup Kaitlyn”) said. Her favorite topping is mac and cheese (Kraft, of course).
She graduated this past May from Marquette University in Milwaukee, majoring in public relations and political science. Hotdoggers are typically new college graduates, to a couple years out of school, and it’s a highly sought-after job.
There are six Wienermobiles traveling the U.S. at once, in different regions, but they go wherever there is a need, Bross said. They are covering Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan; will travel 300 days over their year (putting about 20,000 miles on the Wienermobile), and have just been Hotdoggers for three weeks.
“So we’re fresh dogs, right off the grill,” Bross said. She grew up outside St. Louis, and first saw the Wienermobile parked outside a rock climbing gym at Marquette, her junior year. “I went rock climbing with one of the Hotdoggers,” she recalled. “I had never seen it before. I ended up talking to a Hotdogger about the position and said, that’s exactly what I want to be doing next year.”
“I applied like any normal job, and I was a lucky dog to cut the mustard,” Bross said. “It’s a pretty competitive position,” she said, noting 2,000 apply nationwide and 12 are picked per year.
“It’s been awesome. The first half of the year, we’ll be in the Midwest, and the second half, we’ll switch vehicles and regions,” Bross said.
Training at Hot Dog High
Before starting the job in June, she and Ben Godfrey (“Benny Buns”) had two weeks of training at Hot Dog High in Madison, Wis. – learning how to drive the Wienermobile, how to run events, represent the brand, and a lot of team bonding with all the new Hotdoggers.
The passenger seat up front is called “sitting shotbun.” There are six seats total, for “12 buns, which is pretty special,” Bross said. Since getting on the road, Kaitlyn and Benny have been to Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, and now the QC. The Wienermobile was last here in late July 2020.
Their model is from 2018. Bross said the hardest part operating the big dog is distracted drivers, and practicing defensive driving.
They are making efforts to shorten drive times, to save on gas (since prices are high), she noted. “This is a hard time for families, where many people can’t go and travel, so we want to make sure the Wienermobile is out in local communities. We think it’s more than ever to be at people’s grocery stores, ‘cause you might not be able to afford to take a vacation, but we can still make it out to these communities.”
When asked what gas mileage they get, Bross said: “We like to measure our miles in smiles. But it’s like a large SUV. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I filled it up.”
Favorite parts of hotdogging
The Wienermobile started traveling in 1936 with the goal of sharing miles of smiles across the nation. It’s 27 feet long, 11 feet tall, eight feet wide, and weighs 14,050 pounds (equal to 140,000 hot dogs). More people have been to space than have driven the Wienermobile.
The Hotdoggers started in 1988, and fewer than 450 college grads have held the position since then.
“It’s cool to see the local communities; that’s one of my favorite parts of the job,” Bross said. Oscar Mayer gets requests from cities for stops, from anyone online, and they have retail partners like Hy-Vee. “We can really go wherever.”
There’s also a Wienermobile now in Puerto Rico for a month, “which is super cool,” Bross said. “They’re doing grocery store events and building our reputation with Kraft Heinz in Puerto Rico.”
It’s unusual to be outside of the U.S. – they previously have been in Canada and Germany as well, she said.
“We really try to make sure to hit as many places as possible,” Bross said, noting they also do many special events, like the 4th of July parade in the Twin Cities, Chanhassen, Minn.
“If you see us at Eldridge Summer Fest, Benny Buns and I will be doing the run that night in hot dog costumes,” she said of their Saturday, July 9 appearance.
Bross loves interacting with people. “My favorite is just driving down the road and people seeing us unexpectedly,” she said. “Just the smiles, like when I’m sitting shotbun, you notice someone, they’ll jump and that’s my favorite thing.”
“At the stores, I love talking to kids,” she said. “I have a niece and nephew at home, and miss them a lot, so interacting with all the kids at the events is like bringing home here.”
Who gets to be a Hotdogger?
The company likes to hire people “with Hotdogger personality, who are able to be on the road and interact with people for a year,” Bross said. “They look for marketing, public relations majors, where you’re able to interact with people. But they take all majors. There’s a woman in our class who majored in neuroscience and another in public health.”
Post-Hotdogger, Bross plans to work in public relations. Oscar Mayer often recruits from the team for full-time company jobs, she said.
“It was special to bring the Wienermobile to my alma mater,” she said of visiting Marquette. “We parked it on campus and took photos. I invited some friends to peek inside. It was one of the best moments to bring the Wienermobile back to my chosen hometown.”
Benny Buns makes it family tradition
Benny Godfrey grew up just outside Detroit, and his uncle was a Hotdogger 32 years ago (after going to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich.).
“This is my childhood dream. I would hear stories about what it was like on the road,” he said Friday. “I always wanted to drive this thing, and I’m one lucky dog to say I get to drive this for the next year.”
Godfrey majored in finance (and minored and sales and entrepreneurship) at University of Dayton in Ohio.
“My cousin was picked up in the hospital after he was born in the Wienermobile. It made national news,” he said. “It’s just been a family thing. I love to travel, I love to explore. And hearing my uncle tell me stories, it just got me fired up to apply.”
They also learn “buns and buns of puns” as part of the lingo, Godfrey said.
One of the biggest challenges is finding a parking spot at places, but one of the best parts of the job is talking to people, he said.
“Getting gas normally takes five minutes for most people, but it can take us 25 to 30 minutes,” Godfrey said. “People come up and start sharing the ‘I remember when’ moments – I remember when I saw this for the first time, I remember getting a ride in it 30 years ago.”
Seeing, savoring America
“I love just seeing America and talking to real people all across the country,” he said. He loves seeing the kids’ reaction. “I remember what I was like when I was their age, seeing this for the first time. Just the joy in their eyes is awesome.”
They usually drive 10 miles below the speed limit, Godfrey said. “It’s like an ice cream truck – you don’t want a fast ice cream truck. We like to go a little slower on the highways and roads so people can take photos and wave to us, just share a smile.”
They travel about a new city each week. People can request the Wienermobile at oscarmayer.com, and they can stop at private family events for free.
“We’ve been to weddings, 100-year birthday parties,” Godfrey said, noting people should request about two months in advance. “We’re on a mission to urge people to smile. That being said, we do receive thousands of requests every year and we can’t get to every one. So it is super special if we are able to make it to your event.”
The QC schedule is:
- Today (July 8) — Hy-Vee, 2351 Locust St., Davenport, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Saturday (July 9) — Annual Moonlight Chase Race and Eldridge Summer Festival, parade at 2 p.m., parked from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at North Second Place and West Davenport Street, Eldridge.
- Sunday (July 10) — Hy-Vee, 201 10th Avenue West, Milan, 9 a.m. to noon, and Hy-Vee, 1823 E. Kimberly Rd., Davenport, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information on the Wienermobile, click HERE.