Regional Foods: The Spanish Hot Dog Capital of the World
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
You are not alone if you have never heard of a Spanish dog. The spicy, tangy sauce does not originate from Spain but was created somewhere in the United States. However, it has a strong connection with the city of Logansport, Indiana, making it possibly the “Spanish Dog Capital of the World.”
Various locations serve a Spanish dog, from drive-in root beer stands to sit-down restaurants. All prepare their sauces daily and with secret recipes, with many not willing to share their recipe. The tangy, tomatoey sauce resembles a coney or chili sauce--but don’t dare call it that--it is Spanish sauce, and that is how it’s been as far as anyone remembers.
Brenda Graham has been one of the owners of Brenda and Kim’s B&K West for almost 40 years and produces close to 40 pounds at a time of the sauce. She has never known any other name for the meat sauce ladle over anywhere from 3,500 to 3,800 hot dogs on a busy day.
“It was called that when I worked at B&K 40 years ago. I’m thinking the name comes from the fact that it doesn’t have beans; it’s not chili sauce. That is just speculation. I honestly have no idea why it is called that.”
The Berry Bowl menu offers Spanish sauce on hot dogs and nachos during basketball games.
The uber-regional style of hot dogs can be traced back to 1935 to a Hastings, Nebraska, story in The Morning Spotlight where it mentioned that Spanish hot dogs were served following an American Red Cross meeting.
The following year an advertisement in the Kokomo Tribune highlighted that it was “now in Kokomo for the first time” at an Izzy & Don on 1510 North Washington Street. The ad ended by telling readers: “They’re different. They’re good. Take a sack home.”
The connection to Logansport started in 1937 with several ads in the Pharos-Tribune newspaper archives online. There are at least 38 different mentions of independent shops offering them at their locations.
The long-lost establishments included Ricci’s, Logan Double Dip Shop, Butch’s Bar-B-Que, Lenon’s, Klinck Drive Inn, and The Spanish Hot Dog Stand on Eighteenth and Market Streets. The hot dogs cost a nickel, and other menu items included: coney dogs and Spanish hamburgers – similar to a sloppy joe.
A few more spots began serving the dish on their menus a few years later, including Johnny’s Drive-Inn and two Baker’s Restaurants locations, where customers could also order a brain sandwich for 15 cents.
The sauce was also being sold at grocery stores to prepare at home with ground beef. They were also popular at various eateries 30 minutes away in Kokomo. After World War II, a popular root beer stand would popularize the Spanish dog in the Midwest.
Melvin and Mary Bergerson launched the first B&K Root Beer Drive-In in Wabash, Indiana, in 1940. It soon expanded and reached a peak of 238 independently owned establishments in neighboring Michigan and Ohio. The locations were also known for homemade draft root beer served in a frosty mug.
According to The Great American Hot Dog Book, Mary “devised the special B&K Spanish sauce recipe” that was a milder version of a coney sauce at the Wabash, Indiana, location.
Many believed that Mary coined the name to describe its sweet, tangy, and somewhat spicy flavor profiles that may have included some of the B&K homemade root beer. However, the name had been in use since at least 1937 in Logansport and sold well before the first B-K location opened in 1940.
The Spanish sauce is not a sauce but a combination of hamburger meat and tomato sauce, or ketchup, along with spices and onions. An item called the Spanish burger was sold in parts of the country as early as 1912, and it is most likely possible that someone ladled it over a hot dog soon after, adopting the name.
Due to the popularity of B-K stands, many other chains began developing their version of the sauce throughout the state during the 1950s and 1960s. However, in Logansport, it spread to other non-B-K stands that continue to sell them until this day.
The Sycamore Drive-In is known for its ice cream creations but has its version of the Spanish sauce.
The Sycamore Drive-In has been offering them on its menus for over 70 years; the restaurant is known for its homemade custard, along with attractive items named coffee whip and tally ho.
“The name Spanish sauce has been around since the time we opened in 1948, and we have stuck with it since then,” stated owner Bailey Graham, his sauce is slightly different from other locations. “Just like certain regions of the U.S.people refer to Spanish dogs as coney dogs, we have always referred to them as Spanish dogs.”
The Spanish dog is prevalent in Logansport, and one can choose from other locations: Mr. Happy Burger, Charr-Bett Drive-In, and the Bob-O Link Drive-In, a few miles north in Royal Center.
The home of the Logansport High School basketball team, the Berry Bowl even has a homemade recipe that is very uncommon for a high school concession stand. The volunteer staff stated that it’s one of its best sellers, but many come from out of town and ask about the sauce and its name.
“Growing up, I just figured everyone said Spanish dogs,” added Logansport basketball coach Steve Isaacs.” We had two B&K stands in Logansport, and they called them that too. A lot of people here have their special recipes for Spanish sauce.”
Is there a difference between coney sauce and Spanish sauce, since they are used interchangeably at many B-K locations? According to Titus Ruscitti, who runs his website Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowing with the King, there is a difference.
“Most Spanish sauces I’ve tried have more tomatoey than most coney sauces. It is the same thing with chili in the Midwest. It’s always very tomatoey. I would say they’re different. I’ve mostly only seen Spanish sauce in Indiana. I know there are spots in Ohio, but I see it regularly in the area a little north of Central Indiana but a little south of NW Indiana.”
Gene's is located 75 miles southwest of Logansport in Anderson, Indiana, but uses the term Spanish Hot Dog.
A handful of B&K locations are open from March to October in Muncie, Peru, Marion, Kokomo, Wabash, and Troy, Ohio, that feature either a Spanish or coney dog on its old-fashioned menu boards with a few exceptions.
The Wabash location offers both sauces for its hot dogs, but according to staff members, it is the Spanish sauce that is more popular. The Rochester and Troy locations refer to the two sauces by the same name. The Kokomo location uses the term coney dogs.
The name was not coined, but popularized at B-K locations after World War II; it became a popular item in various locations in the Midwest throughout the 1950s, while for some reason, it spread to other establishments in Logansport and became part of the populace lexicon, but no many other nearby towns. To most people, it has been the name used their entire lives.
“Spanish sauce has a reputation here in Logansport,” added Graham, who uses the sauce to cover nachos, fries, and sausage sandwiches. “We have people come in from Kokomo, Lafayette, and even from Kentucky just to try a Spanish dog, just because they can’t get them where they live.”
Is Logansport the “Spanish Dog Capital of the World”? Perhaps that might be a bold statement, but with at least five locations in the area spooning their homemade recipe over hot dogs and nachos, it may be somewhat hard to argue another town that deserves such a distinction.