The Saugy hot dog is a point of pride for many Rhode Islanders. Its rich and distinct taste, formerly only available in the Ocean State, gives many an excuse to brag about our little home. This year, the beloved summertime favorite turns 150.
Augustus and Alphonse Saugy – German immigrants who came to Rhode Island through Ellis Island – introduced their hot dog to a state that looked very different than it does today. The two would deliver their products from the production house on Canal Street by way of horse and buggy, hooves clamoring on then cobblestone streets, going door-to-door to sell the franks in white cardboard boxes with black lettering.
The Saugy is Rhode Island’s first hot dog, but it’s also one of our best kept secrets. Few people outside of the state are familiar with the product. To many, it’s so irreplaceable, so quintessential, that nostalgic former Rhode Islanders often order them to bring back to their home. The current owner, Mary O’Brien, says she frequently ships five or 10 pounds of Saugys overnight to customers across the country. One man in particular ordered the hot dogs for his ailing mom on Mother’s Day.
It is certainly not easy keeping a business afloat for 150 years, but smart leadership, modern technology, and most importantly, the loyalty of Rhode Islanders preserve this iconic food item. Over the years, the company has overseen the adoption of modern manufacturing technology, transitioning from a sawdust smoking process to a liquid smoke in their USDA and SQF-approved facility. Saugy Inc. recently introduced a skinless recipe (more like a ballpark frank) alongside the classic natural casing recipe, which provides that distinctive “snap” when you bite into it, similar to a sausage. Some locals recoil at the idea of eating a skinless. As Mary says, “Rhode islanders are very loyal to their brand.” The original Saugy still reigns supreme.
What’s next for this historic company? Mary says that she is planning on bringing back Saugy “Buckies” (bratwurst), alongside their own brands of relish, spicy mustard, and New England-style bun. She’s also working on takingthe Saugy to additional locations in Florida. Saugy dogs can be found everywhere in Rhode Island, but The Tavern on the Hill in West Greenwich serves up the largest Saugy menu, with 20 different recipes like the “Mac & Cheese” dog, the “Thanksgiving” and “The Cuban.”