Why a popular fast food chain doesn't serve the item it's named for

(NEXSTAR) — Craving wiener schnitzel? Don’t head to Wienerschnitzel.

The California-based fast food chain serves hot dogs, burgers and fries, but none of the dish for which it’s named.

Traditionally, wiener schnitzel is a thin cut of veal that’s breaded and fried. It’s not a hot dog at all. The “wiener” part of the name is actually the German way of saying “from Vienna,” referring to the food’s Austrian origins.

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A wiener schnitzel isn’t a hot dog – it’s a breaded and fried veal cutlet. (Photo by Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

So then why is Wienerschnitzel named after an Austrian dish it never really planned to serve?

According to “Drive-Thru Life,” an e-book about Wienerschnitzel and its founder John Galardi, the name was inspired by another great fast food family. Galardi was working for Glen Bell, the future founder of Taco Bell, in Pasadena in the 1950s. Galardi decided he wanted to open his own restaurant chain, and John agreed to help – as long as it didn’t compete with his growing taco empire.

So Galardi picked hot dogs. Now it was time to pick a name. After brainstorming, all Galardi could think of were generic options like John’s Hot Dogs or Wonderful Hot Dogs.

He discussed the subject of picking a name with Bell and Bell’s wife Martha over dinner. Martha mentioned that earlier in the day she had been looking through a cookbook and found a recipe for wiener schnitzel – why not use that?

“It’s got wiener in it, which is another word for frankfurter,” she reportedly reasoned.

At first Galardi and just about everyone else thought it was a terrible idea – it was foreign and hard to pronounce, they thought. But Galardi thought it was just unusual enough to pique people’s curiosity, so he went with it.

(The Bell family can also seemingly be credited for the Wienerschnitzel look. Glen Bell reportedly once gave Galardi the advice that red and yellow are the best colors to catch people’s attention.)

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FILE – A Wiener Schnitzel Restaurant in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 2003. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The restaurants were actually originally called Der Wienerschnitzel – which isn’t actually grammatically correct in German – but Galardi liked the sound of it, according to “Drive-Thru Life.”

But despite this very German-sounding name, the original menu was still all American. It was a hot dog stand from day one – not a schnitzel in sight, apart from the signage.

That changed briefly in 2017, when Wienerschnitzel announced it would be “serving the food it was named for.” The fast food chain added three types of chicken schnitzel sandwiches to its menu for two months that year.

At the time, J.R. Galardi, executive vice president and son of the founding Galardi, said he might consider keeping schnitzel on the menu if it proved to be a hit in the test-run.

“If it does, it will most likely remain on the menu,” he said in a press release.

But the namesake menu item may not have been a smash success with fast food lovers’ palates. In 2024 there’s no trace of schnitzel remaining on the Wienerschnitzel menu.

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