Local Pantry: Vivi's Carnival (But Not Carny) Mustards
"The World's Largest Hot Dog with Cuban Hot Sauce." It's not a slogan for the latest Guinness World Records attempt at temporary hot dog celebrity. It's the name of the hot dog stand that served as the inspiration for local artisan mustard producer Vivi's Original Sauce. Owner Vivian "Vivi" Poutakoglou, a self-described Sherman Oaks "elementary teacher by day and sauce entrepreneur by night," makes spicy-sweet mustard similar to the "Cuban hot sauce" her grandparents once made.
Poutakoglou's grandparents, former dairy farmers, traveled the carnival circuit around Ohio, Indiana and Michigan for nearly 50 years selling hot dogs topped with the spicy mustard sauce they made by the bucketful in their basement. [Yes, they were carnies, but grandmom, aka 92-year-old "Big Vivi," is not fond of that word, so we shall respectfully refrain from using it.]
Poutakoglou's grandparents eventually built a second hot dog stand and expanded into other areas of the carnival food stand world with stands selling snow cones, lemonade, popcorn/caramel apples, cotton candy and corn dogs/Texas tenderloin/French fries. The "Kelley Lee" couple of the carnival circuit, if you will.
The mustard recipe retired along with grandma and grandpa until Poutakoglou developed her own version (sans those 1960s artificial ingredients) several years ago and began marketing it as "carnival sauce." Poutakoglou, who used to work the hot dog stand when she was visiting her grandparents in Ohio over summer vacation, says she was careful to re-create the same flavor of the original sauce (she also added a garlic-and-chipotle version).
She uses her summer vacations these days to focus on the business side of the carnival mustard game, which of late has been expanding those direct-to-consumer online sales in lieu of focusing solely on procuring specialty retail shop shelf space. "Since, as you know, the big stores take a large marketing arm of money," Poutakoglou told us recently via email. Indeed, Bill Manning would agree.
You can find Vivi's mustard at many local Whole Foods stores and online.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.