You see them at festivals and fairs across the country. At sporting events. At the dealership stands for any occasion, really. It’s an American classic: corn dogs. And it may surprise you that the beloved fried food on a stick was invented on the Oregon coast.
Along Highway 101 in Rockaway Beach, an offbeat roadside attraction can’t be missed. Drivers are probably doing a double take at the sight of a giant corn dog on the roof. It is a massive fiberglass corn dog. A Pronto Pup, to be exact.
“As far as I know, the history of the Pronto Pup was made in Rockaway in the late 1930s, early 1940s, a little closer to town,” said Diane Langer, who purchased the Original Pronto. Modern pup with her husband at the end of 2021. .
The birth of the Pronto Pup dates back to Labor Day 1939. It was on that day that George Boyington, who ran a hot dog stand in Rockaway Beach with his wife, had an idea while he was sitting with overloaded stale buns. How about a dough that could be cooked on demand?
Boyington determined a delicious immediate solution. The new snack on a stick has become a local pride.
The Original Pronto Pup opened its doors in 2016, as a tribute to the culinary creation invented in the city some eight decades earlier.
Taking Pronto Pups Nationwide
Shortly after Boyington found the recipe, he began mass production of the Portland Pronto Pup Dough Mix. The product quickly caught the attention of the country. Boyington trademarked and began franchising the business.
Today Pronto Pups are especially popular in the Midwest. Minnesota Pronto Pup franchise owner Gregg Karnis has had a lifetime experience with Pronto Pups in this region of the country.
Karnis’ father was a Marine who completed his service in 1944 in Portland. After leaving his ship in the city, the elder Karnis heard about Pronto Pups and became one of the first franchise owners, opening a shop in Chicago.
“[The business] was an instant hit. … By then the whole concept of a batter-and-stick hot dog was literally sweeping the country and people were buying product club franchises from coast to coast,” said Karnis about his dad’s candour.
Elder Karnis was then approached to bring Pronto Pups to the Minnesota State Fair in 1947. They’ve been a staple at the fair ever since then operated by the Karnis family – and it’s an operation in its own right.
“We have a main commissary, which is almost 3,500 square feet, where we simply do production. We have a retail end in front, like a storefront if you will. But the whole back of the building is given over to production. … The batter is shuffled. It is delivered to locations. We have a total of eight state fairground locations. »
During the Minnesota State Fair, people buy a lot of Pronto Pups.
“On average we go through about 36 tons of hot dogs in a 12-day state fair and typically we mix well over a hundred tons of dough. So hundreds of thousands of puppies are served every year,” Karnis said.
If those numbers don’t prove Minnesota’s love for the Pronto Pups, state lawmakers officially recognized them in 2016.
“We were called to the Minnesota State Legislature in St. Paul, the capital,” for a resolution recognizing Pronto Pups’ contribution to the Minnesota State Fair, Karnis said, recalling of the occasion.
“And it was like the warmest, most touching moment of my entire life. Because in that moment, I realized that, boy, what my mom and dad brought to Minnesota is much more than I had ever imagined.
While Minnesota has embraced the Pronto Pup for generations, the trademark dough still comes from Portland. And in Rockaway Beach, where The Original Pronto Pup location was named to honor the pup’s local origins, there’s also a strong following.
A “cheesy” tradition
A corn dog may seem like more of a lunch or dinner food. At The Original Pronto Pup, people are eager to order as soon as the doors open at 10am.
“It’s actually quite amazing when you realize how much of a following Pronto Pups are, and when people come in and say, ‘We drove three hours to come and have a Pronto Pup. Or, ‘We came from Idaho.’ Or, “We came from Michigan,” Langer said. “A lot of times they say, ‘We waited for you to open today so we could get in. And, “We changed our route or destination so we could stop.”
There’s also another type of marching band that Pronto Pup fans can find in Rockaway Beach: the mechanical corn dog.
Like a bull or a mechanical horse on a merry-go-round, the corn dog is equipped with a saddle. Passing in a few quarters to a lunge gets the ride started. Young and old take the corn dog for a spin.
The Original Pronto Pup boasts a nerdy experience dedicated to the brainchild of Boyington’s creation all those years ago.
The process of making a puppy is as simple as it was back then.
“So we mix the batter every day by hand, everything has to be on a stick so it stays under the oil in the fryer. … We put sticks in everything. Then everything is dipped by hand. is made to order,” Langer explained, as she carefully demonstrated the process before opening on a Friday in mid-April.
Langer points out two reasons why the Pronto Pups have long been a crowd favorite.
“People like roadside attractions and people like fried foods, you know?” she said laughing.
Karnis agreed, also with a chuckle.
“I know this well: that [customers are] willing to line up to get one, and when they get it, oftentimes they’ll have a handful, maybe 8, 9, 10… And they’ll bring them and everybody grab their Pronto Pups, but they definitely have a complete look of total satisfaction because it’s funfair time again. And we can get an original, freshly hand-dipped Pronto Pup, like we’ve done for generations.
Pronto Pup fun is a tradition that spans both decades and geography, from the Oregon Coast to the Minnesota State Fair and back again.
This story is part of a larger exploration of corn as a Northwest ingredient, coming in season two of overabundant.