The birth of a Hot Dog Stand back in 1952, Chicago was just the beginning for an iconic food vendor by the name of Norm Lebovitz. Even though he was only 13 years old at the time, it’s been said that Norm actually began working at six and a half. So, he was already a seasoned veteran at age thirteen. Norm began a long history with Sammy’s Red Hots at 121 West Division Street and continued with other memorable stands in the Chicagoland area.
Later, Norm and his high school friend and later his wife, Sheila, looked to expand by building modular kiosk Hot Dog Stands (not to be confused with Sammy’s), and looked for another name. A bus driver who would stop on his route each day to get a quick sandwich would yell out “Lemme have a Hot Dog!” It was then that Norm and Sheila realized they had their new name… “Lemmy’s”. Over the next decade they built over a dozen of those mini Hot Dog palaces around town, including the location that later became The Weiner’s Circle. Many folks were regulars at Sammy’s and Lemmy’s including a young Hugh Hefner who would come in late in the evening after partying and would wait for Norm to close up and drive him home. Many of the Chicago Bears and Harlem Globetrotters; and even William Wrigley were regular patrons in those early years. Probably the most famous visual and marketing genius about Sammy’s décor was that he purposely hung his round outdoor sign upside down. When asking folks if they remember Sammy’s sign, it usually triggers a smile of remembrance.
Norm dabbled in the pickle business in the early 1980’s with Papa’s Pickles helping pioneer the pickle business for his Hot Dog supplier, Vienna Beef. He was one of the founding fathers of Chicago Fest, the forerunner to Taste of Chicago. But in the mid-1980’s, Norm and Sheila shocked the community by moving West to San Diego to operate and grow a Chicago Style Hot Dog Stand called Sluggo’s in La Jolla, California. It also became a successful iconic food emporium featuring Chicago’s Vienna Beef products and the television “watch party” for Chicago sports teams for all the Midwest transplants and their local friends. Norm is gone now, but Sheila carried on the tradition at Sluggo’s along with the memories and the lore that was created by Norm. Years later, their Grandson, Sammy, said in his Bar Mitzvah speech that he was possibly the only kid named after a Hot Dog Stand.
Their history that we’ve only touched on is why Vienna Beef has chosen to induct Norm and Sheila Lebovitz and their three iconic Hot Dog concepts: Sammy’s, Lemmy’s, and Sluggo’s into the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame, which was created to honor the people and places that have developed and achieved landmark status. Out of thousands of customers over the years we have recognized 140 nationwide since the award was inaugurated in 2006. Our congratulations to Sheila and the extended Lebovitz family, as well as the memory of Norm, that amazing visionary Hot Dog character and aficionado.