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INCREDIBLE EDIBLE MUNCH

Canned tomato label misleads consumers, federal judge rules

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CONSUMER WATCH: A class of consumers claim that Simpson’s canned tomatoes use labeling that suggests they are high-end San Marzano tomatoes, when in fact they are lower quality San Merican tomatoes.

 

 

By MICHAEL GENNARO, Contributing Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge is allowing some claims to continue against Simpson Imports from consumers who claim that the company uses misleading labels on its canned tomatoes.

Andrea Valiente, the named plaintiff in a 2023 class action, claims that Simpson’s canned tomatoes use labeling that suggests they are high-end San Marzano tomatoes grown in Italy, when in fact they are lower quality San Merican tomatoes.

 

Simpson no longer sells San Marzano tomatoes, but Valiente says the packaging on the San Merican tomatoes is extremely similar to Simpson’s old San Marzano packaging.

 

US District Judge Araceli Martinez-Olguin, a Joe Biden appointee, wrote in her opinion that the critical issue is whether the products are “substantially similar” with respect to any purported mislabeling. Martinez-Olguin wrote that Valiente had standing because her claims about the tomato products were consistent and all of the tomatoes shared similar branding that could mislead a reasonable consumer.

The old cans had an illustration of a red tomato with “San Marzano” written on it. Valiente says the current cans use a nearly identical design, using the same red tomato but replacing the “San Marzano” text with the abbreviation “SMT.” On the label’s SMT abbreviation, embedded within the letters corresponding to Simpson’s brand is text: “San” for “S,” “erican” is nested within the letter “M,” and “omato” appears under “T.

San Marzano tomatoes originate in Naples, Italy, and are thinner and more pointed than a standard Roma tomato, and have a sweeter, less acidic taste. Because of these characteristics, San Marzano tomatoes are better suited for making tomato sauces, and are typically priced at double or triple the price of an ordinary tomato.

Valiente claims the text embedded in the “SMT” abbreviation is “so comically miniscule that it is almost impossible to see with the naked eye,” and that the tomato illustration is of a San Marzano tomato. Additionally, the San Merican tomatoes are sold at a similar price point to San Marzano tomatoes, furthering the deception.

 

Valiente asserts claims for violation of all three prongs of California’s Unfair Competition Law, violation of California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act, violation of California’s False Advertising Law, fraud, breach of express warrant and unjust enrichment.

“Consumers have purchased hundreds of thousands of defendant’s products under the false, but reasonable, impression that they were purchasing a San Marzano varietal of tomato, when they were not,” Valiente said in her complaint.

Simpson moved to dismiss the claims, saying that Valiente lacked standing, that the “SMT” abbreviation was up to artistic interpretation and that Valiente’s claims were preempted by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act — which expressly preempts all state statutes and law that directly or indirectly establish any requirement for the labeling of food that is not identical to the federal requirements set forth by statute and Food and Drug Administration regulations.

 

Simpson claimed that Valiente’s complaint imposed a disclosure agreement on the company that the FDCA does not contain. Simpson claimed the FDCA does not require them to state the varietal of tomato, but only specify that the products are tomatoes, which the label does, and their country of origin, which the label does.

Martinez-Olguin, however, ruled in Valiente’s favor for the FDCA claims because Valiente is challenging the text on the label, not the representation of the products as tomatoes.

“Valiente expressly disclaims any attempt to impose labeling requirements other than those set by federal law. Instead, Valiente seeks to hold Simpson accountable for adding content that, as alleged, is both (1) not required by federal regulations and (2) misleading. As such, Valiente’s claims are not preempted,” Martinez-Olguin wrote.

The court may revisit both of these claims in the future, however, Martinez-Olguin wrote, because some of Valiente’s claims in her complaint are contradicted by some of the present arguments before the court. 

Claims under the California Unfair Competition Law, California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and False Advertising Law claims will all be allowed to proceed at this stage because of the confusing nature of the tomatoes’ label, Martinez-Olguin wrote.

“It is plausible for reasonable consumers to view the letters ‘SMT’ and the illustration on Simpson’s label and expect a San Marzano tomato, particularly when they have paid a price that is comparable to other San Marzano tomatoes,” Martinez-Olguin wrote.

Martinez-Olguin did grant Simpson’s motion to dismiss Valiente’s claims for injunctive relief because there is no threat of future harm now that Valiente is aware of the deception. The judge also dismissed class claims at this point because Valiente is still conforming her proposed class definition to her counsel’s representation.

Valiente must file any amended complaint in the next 21 days.

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CEREAL WARS

Snoop Dogg, Master P sue Post, Walmart for

product sabotage

Snoop Dogg and Master P

By MARVA BOUILLABAISE, Food Editor

LOS ANGELES––Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and co-founders of Broadus Foods, Snoop Dogg and Master P held a news conference Feb. 6 to announce the filing of a lawsuit against retail food industry leaders Post and Walmart, who engaged in deceptive trade practices to prevent the sales of Snoop Cereal.

In 2022, Snoop Dogg (Calvin Broadus) and Master P (Percy Miller) founded Broadus Foods with the vision of creating a family-owned company that promotes diversity in the food industry and provides opportunities for minority-owned products. The company introduced two main brands––Snoop Cereal and Momma Snoop, offering high-quality and affordable breakfast foods.

Broadus Foods aimed to inspire economic empowerment among minorities and contribute to charitable causes addressing hunger and homelessness. To expand their reach, Snoop Dogg and Master P approached major brands to engage in a partnership and promotion agreement to distribute Snoop Cereal with national retailers.

 

However, despite one company agreeing to the agreement, it allegedly sabotaged the success of Snoop Cereal by preventing it from reaching consumers through deceptive practices. Broadus Foods is seeking damages suffered by the deceptive trade practices under various causes of action.

 

The rappers' claimed after they struck a partnership deal with Post, the company secretly "ensured that Snoop Cereal would not be available to consumers" or would "incur exorbitant costs that would eliminate any profit."

 

When they approached Post about a production and distribution partnership, they say the "breakfast juggernaut" attempted to buy the company outright, but that they refused.

Broadus Foods claims the move was payback after Snoop and Master P staunchly refused to sell their company to Post.

"Essentially, because Snoop Dogg and Master refused to sell Snoop Cereal in totality, Post entered a false arrangement where they could choke Broadus Foods out of the market, thereby preventing Snoop Cereal from being sold or produced by any competitor," Crump wrote in a complaint.

The lawsuit also named Walmart as a defendant, saying the retail giant played a key role in "the most egre- gious example" of Post's alleged wrongdoing. 

 

"Post essentially worked with Walmart to ensure that none of the boxes of Snoop Cereal would ever appear on the store shelves," Crump wrote.

 

In a response statement, a Walmart spokesperson said "Walmart values our relationships with our suppliers, and we have a strong history of supporting entrepreneurs. Many factors affect the sales of any given product, including consumer demand, seasonality, and price to name a few. We will respond as appropriate with the court once we are served with the complaint."

A spokesperson for Post did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit's allegations.

"Unbeknownst to Broadus Foods, Post was not on board with their goals and dreams and had no intention of treating Snoop Cereal equally as its own brands," Crump writes. "Instead, Post intended to only give [the appearance] that they were following the Agreement."

The worst case of such alleged mistreatment, according to the lawsuit, was the situation at Walmart. Snoop and Master P claim that Snoop Cereal initially sold well at the massive chain, but that Walmart's system soon began to falsely show that the product was out of stock.

 

"However, upon further investigation by store employees, each of these stores had several boxes of Snoop Cereal in their stockrooms that were coded to not be put out on the store shelves," the company's lawyers write.

 

"Unlike the other Post branded boxes of cereal around them, these Snoop Cereal boxes had been in the stockrooms for months without ever being made available to customers."

In technical terms, the lawsuit claims that Post breached its agreements with and fiduciary duty to Broadus Foods, as well as defrauded the smaller company and made negligent misrepresentations. The case claims that Walmart committed so-called tortious interference by going along with Post's scheme and that it aided and abetted Post in breaching its fiduciary duty.

 

The lawsuit claims that both companies committed civil conspiracy by working together.

When life gave one entrepreneur lemons, she

puckered up!

 

 

When life gave her lemons, Karneisha Christian-Stewart literally used her father’s recipe to make lemonade – building a thriving beverage business in Compton called Pucker Up Lemonade Company.

 

The Compton College alumna now also sells her many flavors of lemonade, iced tea, and infused waters at the certified farmers market on campus every Wednesday.

 

“While I never participated in other farmers’ markets, I feel the community is so fortunate to have Compton College in our backyard,” she said. “It was a no-brainer to participate in the farmers’ market on campus given my long relationship with the college.”

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For ambitious Karneisha Christian-Stewart, Pucker Up Lemonade for Christian-Stewart began in 2011 following 15 years as a pediatric nurse.

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Attractive containers, including signature lemon dome souvenir cups accent the Pucker Up Lemonade Company brand. Photos courtesy of Pucker Up

Christian-Stewart began her three-decade affiliation with Compton College at age 14 when she landed a job at the college’s Financial Aid Office through a state-funded summer youth employment program in the early 1990s. 

 

An ambitious teenager, Christian-Stewart pushed herself to finish high school early, while enrolling at Compton College to take an

algebra class she needed to fulfill a graduation requirement.

 

She became a full-time student in 1993, taking advantage of the numerous opportunities the school offered; she even joined the women’s basketball team. 

“Being at Compton College was easy and comfortable for me,” she said. “Having worked in the financial aid office, I was familiar with faculty and staff and I liked being involved.” 

 

During her sophomore year, Christian-Stewart became active in student government as commissioner of activities, which helped her develop important skills that facilitated her entrepreneurial spirit such as leadership, teamwork, collaboration, and event planning. 

 

She graduated with an associate degree and transferred to Concordia University in Irvine where she majored in behavioral science and anthropology. She also attended Maxine Waters Preparation Center, as well as Southwest College to train to become a nurse. 

 

Compton College has played a major role in my life,” said Christian-Stewart. “The college definitely prepared me to transfer to a four-year university and for life because as a young teen, I was able to work alongside and study with mostly adult learners at Compton College. I was influenced by a wide range of people, backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge.”  

 

Pucker Up Lemonade for Christian-Stewart began in 2011 following 15 years as a pediatric nurse. The entrepreneurial side of her is rooted to her child’s school fundraiser carnival with a family recipe, a beverage dispenser, and an ice chest.  

 

With attention to detail and marketing instinct, Christian-Stewart and her husband Jon, gradually grew Pucker Up from a lemonade stand at events like parties, quinceañeras, street fairs and weddings to corporate events.

 

In 2019, she opened her flagship “brick and mortar” store.

 

“A specialty foods shop owner in Compton wanted to retire and was looking for someone to take over his commercial space lease,” said Christian-Stewart. “Through a friend’s referral to the storefront location, I was in the right place at the right time and while the shop needed a little sprucing up, it had the commercial kitchen equipment I needed. 

 

The shop owner and Christian-Stewart solidified "the deal on a piece of paper and a handshake, and I never looked back," she said. "I’m a firm believer in faith and generational blessings. My father taught my siblings and me about a strong work ethic and how to pay it forward.”

 

Today, Pucker Up Lemonade offers more than 100 flavors of lemonade (50 flavors in both sugar and sugar-free versions), iced teas, and water infused with fruits/vegetables and natural flavors.

 

Pucker Up also offers “boutique” beverage catering with colorfully decorated drink stations, tea parties, and mocktail drinks pressed, stirred and ready to order. Unique lemonade flavors such as mango and lavender satisfy the thirsty with discriminating tastes and those in need of a refreshing cooler. 

 

Pucker Up offers souvenir cups for $15 deliver “all you can drink” refills for $3. Prepackaged beverages are also sold by partner retail locations. Future plans are for mass production and distribution, and franchise opportunities.

 

Pucker Up Lemonade will roll out with a food truck in 2024.

 

“We will offer a small food menu with unique and delicious [entrees] to accompany everyone’s favorite lemonade flavors,” said Christian-Stewart.

 

The company’s slogan is “When life gives you lemons, pucker up! [which] can mean different things to different people, said Christian-Stewart. “For my family, it means with whatever [we] are handed in life, ready yourself, position yourself, use your resources, and that’s what building Pucker Up Lemonade has really been for us. 

"I think my kids realize that anything is possible. We started this with backyard lemons and look where we are today! They really see the possibilities of dedication, consistency, creativity, and strong work ethic.”

 

Pucker Up Lemonade is located at 723 E. Compton Blvd. Compton, Calif. Delivery available. Hours 1-5 p.m.

(562) 507-8177.

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Breakfast's

New Beat,

MOMMA

SNOOP

Rap icons enter breakfast biz

LOS ANGELES (MNS)Move over Quakers Oats, Aunt Jemima, and Albers. Introducing a new delicious brand of pancake mix, maple syrup, grits, oatmeal and cookie mix to supermarket shelves everywhere. Make room for Momma Snoop.

Broadus Foods' Founder Snoop Dogg aka Calvin Broadus, and CEO Master P aka Percy Miller have come together to tap into the $400 billion global breakfast food market, taking on the giants in the businessNestle SA, General Mills Inc., The Kellogg Company, PepsiCo Inc., and The Kraft Heinz Company.

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Snoop and Master P are committed to inspire economic empowerment by adding diversity into the grocery stores industry and creating opportunities for minority-owned food products and brands. 

In the urban communities of their rootsSnoop Dogg in Long Beach, Calif., and Master P in New Orleans, La., and later Richmond, Calif., oatmeal, grits, cold cereal, pancakes, waffles, buttermilk biscuits, maple syrup, jellies and jams, coffee cake, along with bacon, sausage, hot links and eggs, were the mainstays of the first meal of the day.

Now they are entering the fray to compete for the breakfast dollar against the biggest and most successful names in the industry, who have made hundreds of millions in profit for decades and decades.

 

Momma Snoop, Broadus Foods' brand image with her kind sweet face and bonnet, and two of the least likely food industry investors—Snoop and Master P—will test their mettle against the likes of the Quaker Oats Man, Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth, Cap'n Crunch, Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, and Snap, Crackle 'n Pop.

A wise man once said the highest mountains had small beginnings. Half of this wisdom, at least, applies to Broadus Foods.

Visit: http://broadusfoods.com

Ok, Subway, is it tuna or not?

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Mystery Word Games: Subway still on hook for claims of no tuna in its tuna sandwiches

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN)—A federal judge on has denied sandwich giant Subway’s bid to dismiss consumers’ claims the tuna served in its restaurants isn’t tuna at all.

Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin grabbed national headlines in 2020 when they accused Subway of duping consumers into paying more for sandwiches advertised as tuna without having tuna in them at all.

“In truth, the products do not contain tuna as ingredient. On the contrary, the filling in the products has no scintilla of tuna at all. In fact, the products entirely lack any trace of tuna as a component, let alone the main or predominant ingredient,” the women claimed in their lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California. 

Speculation abounded. A New York Times reporter actually purchased 60 inches of sandwich, removed the tuna and sent it off to a lab for analysis. The results were inconclusive, as the meat was too processed to identify.

Since then, the sandwich chain has launched a campaign to defend itself against these accusations, even creating a website—SubwayTunaFacts.com—as a defense from the lawsuits and a New York Times probe. 

This past October, US District Judge Jon Tigar tossed the women’s lawsuit, finding they failed to meet a critical standard for describing any fraudulent conduct.

The plaintiffs fired back with an amended complaint claiming Subway’s tuna either partially or wholly lack tuna. In fact, they claimed the tuna may contain other fish and animal products or miscellaneous products—noting samples from California restaurants indicated the tuna filling was "a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna."

They did not report what lab tests found in lieu of tuna. But Subway denied these claims, telling Food and Wine that "Subway delivers 100 percent cooked tuna to its restaurants, which is mixed with mayonnaise and used in freshly made sandwiches, wraps and salads that are served to and enjoyed by our guests. Given the facts, the lawsuit constitutes a reckless and improper attack on Subway’s brand and goodwill, and on the liveli- hood of its California franchisees."

Ruling on a new motion to dismiss, Tigar found July 7 that Dhanowa’s claims should be nixed with prejudice since she had apparently never purchased tuna sandwiches from Subway. He also accepted Subway’s argu- ment that no consumer would be misled into thinking its tuna products didn’t contain other ingredients—mayo- nnaise, bread, other things normally found in a tuna sandwich—and dismissed claims made on that basis.

But Tigar declined to dismiss claims that Subway’s tuna contains “other fish species, animal species or miscel- laneous products.”

While Subway argued that any non-tuna DNA discovered in tests must have come from the eggs in mayonnaise or cross-contact with other ingredients, Tigar said it is possible it comes from ingredients consumers wouldn’t expect to be in a tuna sandwich.

"Even if the court accepted Subway’s statement that all non-tuna DNA must be caused by cross-contact with other Subway ingredients, it still would not dismiss the complaint on this basis," Tigar wrote. "Whether, and to what extent, a reasonable consumer expects cross-contact between various Subway ingredients is a question of fact."

He also denied Subway’s motion to dismiss claims its tuna products have no tuna at all "because a reasonable consumer would expect that a product advertised as 'tuna' to contain at least some tuna as an ingredient."

As for claims of fraud in advertising, Tigar found Amin provided enough details for why the company’s descrip- tions could be misleading if there are other ingredients besides tuna in a tuna product. He also said at this stage in the litigation, nothing in the law requires Amin to provide specifics about the lab tests she and her attorneys had run on the tuna product.

Subway’s lawyer Mark C. Goodman did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Walmart Panics

Spooked by backlash on social media, retail giant yanks its Juneteenth Ice Cream from freezer shelves 

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By JARRETTE FELLOWS, JR., Editor

 

LOS ANGELES (MNS)Rattled by a potential backlash about the debut of its new dessert product Juneteenth Ice Cream, Walmart corporate officials pulled the item, which commemorates Juneteenth after criticism appeared on social media.

 

The ice cream, consisting of a swirl of red velvet and cheesecake flavors, features what appears to be an inoffensive proclamation: "Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope."

 

But some on social media have accused Walmart of using Juneteenth as a marketing scheme. One was comedian Roy Wood Jr., who tweeted, "Would you like some Juneteenth Ice cream on a Juneteenth plate as you sip your beer in a Juneteenth Koozie?"

Another man named Christopher, tweeted, "So what type of toppings do you put on this mess? Crushed souls and shackle-shaped sprinkles??? It’s a no for me."

Still a third tweeter who goes by the name, Uncle Samp, shared, "Walmart backed Juneteenth ice cream is in the same vein as what's happened to BLM, and Pride, and Anti Work. As our ideas become more 'main- stream' we have to think of how to protect them from being recuperated and de-radicalized."

Estelle Goodlow, who said she read about the backlash and subsequent reaction by Walmart management on Facebook, laughed at Walmart's "overreaction. I think it's funny that they would pull the ice cream. I don't see anything wrong with it. I'm disappointed. I would have both some."

 

Walmart was apolegetic and released a statement to media outlets: "Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence. However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize. We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate."

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. It was about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was signed by President Abraham Lincoln freeing slaves in Texas.

Grower, Plenty, names

Arama Kukutai CEO 

SAN FRANCISCO (MNS)Plenty Unlimited Inc., an indoor, vertical farming technology company that can grow clean produce year-round, anywhere in the world, announced the appointment of Arama Kukutai as Chief Executive Officer.

 

Kukutai is a seasoned entrepreneur and visionary leader in the agritech industry, currently serving as co-founder and partner at Finistere Ventures, a pioneering venture firm dedicated to identifying and nurturing promising agribusiness and food tech companies. He brings to his role over two decades of leadership within farming, agriculture investment and sustainability, and will oversee Plenty’s growth into a scaled vertical farming company. Matt Barnard, co-founder and former CEO, will continue to serve as Executive Chairman of the Board. 

 

"Indoor agriculture has long promised a solution to the challenges

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Arama Kukutai

facing traditional growing, including solving year round supply, supply chain disruption, high water use and widespread pesticide and chemical use,” said Kukutai. "It has taken Plenty a decade of work to solve the technology and operating challenges in order to build economically viable, scalable farms that can deliver clean, nutritious and delicious food here in America, and globally in years to come. 

 

"With our Compton Farm opening this year, Plenty will lay a huge marker in proving the viability of a new wave in food quality, security and sustainability. I'm excited  to be leading Plenty's evolution from R&D to growing the business at scale," Kukutai said.

Kukutai has been an investor in Plenty and a part of Plenty’s Board of Directors since September 2016. Prior to his work with Plenty and Finistere, Kukutai served as executive chairman of PKW Farms, a successfully diversified investment entity involved in dairy farming and aquaculture activities in New Zealand, Asia and Australia. He also led the New Zealand government’s Trade & Investment agency in North America.

 

"I am delighted that Arama has agreed to lend his formidable experience to the role of CEO, and I look forward to supporting him as Plenty accelerates its growth," said Barnard. "Arama has been part of our visionary team from the beginning, and with his own farming heritage of running large farming operations throughout his career, he is committed to the Plenty promise to build sustainable, intelligent farms that deliver healthy, safe produce with a focus on premium flavor."

 

About Plenty

Plenty is rewriting the rules of agriculture through its technology platform that can grow clean produce anywhere in the world, year round, with unprecedented yield and peak season quality. Plenty’s proprietary approach preserves the world’s natural resources, makes nutritious produce available to all communities and creates resilience in our food systems against weather, location, pests and climate. Plenty's headquarters are in South San Francisco, and the company operates the largest of its kind indoor plant science research facility in Laramie, Wyoming. Plenty is currently building the world's highest-output, vertical, indoor farm in Compton,

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INCREDIBLE EDIBLE LORE

Art's Famous Chili Dogs Hangs up the buns after 8 decades

LOS ANGELES (MNS)After a run of 80 years, Art’s Famous Chili Dogs in South LA has hung up the buns.

But not before one customer who had been coaxed to try one of the eatery’s chili dogs for years finally relented.

 

“For year’s my dad and my brother been telling us to come try it out,” Brianna Guzman told KABC News. “So, this is the first time and I’m just sad about it. It was really good.”

 

Guzman chowed down on the Jumbo Chili Dog, immediately realizing after the first bite what she’d missed all these years. Sadly, she wouldn’t be able to return.

 

Christopher Oliver said he grew up in the neighborhood and has been a customer of Art's Famous Chili Dog Stand for over three decades.

 

“Sorry to hear that it’s not going to be in business anymore. It really hurts, it really hurts my heart,” Oliver told KABC. “Now I’ve got to go back and explain to my kids, this is my last chili dog.”

 

Art’s Famous Chili Dogs, was a familiar sight at1410 W. Florence Ave. for 80 years, founded in 1939 by frank- furter entrepreneur, Art Elkind, who was its owner until 1990. After Elkind passed, Darrell Nelms bought it in 1994, remodeled it and kept the popular spot operative until March 8, 2020. Nelms’ daughters Fallon and Naijah Nelms co-owned the stand with their mother.

“This was our father’s dream" to own and operate the chili dog grill, Fallon said of Darrell, who himself passed in 2018. 
Fallon told KABC of she and Naijah’s valiant effort to keep the chili dog stand open, but in recent years haven’t been able to attract enough foot traffic to justify keeping the doors open, 80 years ago, Elkind sold the dogs for only 10 cents.

 

Looking back four decades

 

A chemical engineer, Elkind turned to selling hot dogs when unable to find work during the Great Depression. He opened the joint two miles west of its current location at Florence and Normandie Avenues. Elkind claims to have invented the chili dog when he was selling hot dogs and chili from a pushcart when someone suggested that he combine the two (other hot dog vendors have disputed this legend). He did, however, invent his own hot dog steamer, which kept all of hot dog’s ingredients at the same temperature, and for using a hot dog which was only part pork and had no natural casing, which contributed to his chili dogs’ unique flavor.

 

This stand quickly became well-known for its chili dogs and also for the personality of Elkind. He was described as a classic New Yorker, who was tough on the outside but kind on the inside.

Elkind died of a heart attack in October 1990.  

Metropolis News Service.

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