The hot dog stand at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, about 1946. Credit: Courtesy of Harvey Tettlebaum.
The hot dog stand at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, about 1946. Credit: Courtesy of Harvey Tettlebaum.
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Esther Schimmel knew how to take a bite out of life

A Jewish immigrant from Poland, she was an excellent cook, a savvy entrepreneur and a philanthropist who supported Jewish organizations.

The St. Louis Cardinals won their first World Series in 1926, beating the New York Yankees. The following season, just outside Sportsman’s Park—the Cardinal’s home stadium—Esther Schimmel opened a hot dog stand. It would continue to feed countless baseball fans and many major league ballplayers over the next four decades.

Schimmel was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. She was an excellent cook, a savvy entrepreneur and a philanthropist who supported Jewish organizations. Jewish Cardinal fans who attended games at Sportsman’s Park mostly remember her delicious hot dogs.

“I do remember that hot dog,” said Steve Alper, a resident of St. Louis. “I just remember you bit into it and a huge snap followed as the burnt edges broke off. Just glorious.”

“My grandfather Aubie took my brother Randy and I to ballgames,” said Dennis Brodsky, who also lives in the city. “We wanted to go inside the ballpark, and Grandpa Aubie said, ‘No, no, no, no. We’re going right here across the street to get a hot dog.’ So we lined up and he gave me a quarter to put on the counter, just like on ‘Seinfeld’ when they laid down the money for the soup. It was a great time—great memories.”

Who was Esther Schimmel?

Around 1900, Esther Kantner immigrated from Goworowa, Poland, to the United States and found a home in St. Louis.

She and her husband, Harvey Kantner, had two children. They lived next door to a Catholic church. Esther, who was a skilled seamstress, sewed habits for the nuns and opened a millinery shop.

Harry Kantner died during a flu epidemic, and Esther met and married a German Jewish immigrant, Louis Schimmel. The family bought a house on the corner of Spring Avenue and Dodier Avenue, across the street from Sportsman’s Park.

Sportsman's Park St. Louis
Budweiser sign at Sportsman’s Park St. Louis, about 1946. Credit: Courtesy of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

The house burned down, but Louis Schimmel took advantage of the empty lot and paved it. The parking lot could fit 60 cars and was conveniently located immediately across the street from the ballpark.

Esther Schimmel saw a business opportunity, too, so she had Louis build her a hot dog stand on the corner of the parking lot.

“The two of them were real entrepreneurs,” said Harvey Tettlebaum, Esther Schimmel’s grandson. She built a millinery business and was supporting her family. She was really quite a woman.”

He added that opening a food stand was a natural role for her since she was an excellent cook.

Sportsman's Park St. Louis
On the way to Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Credit: Courtesy of the St. Louis Jewish Light.
Sportsman's Park St. Louis
Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Credit: Courtesy of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

“She was a good baker,” said the 82-year-old Tettlebaum. “Her challah was just unbelievable.”

Tettlebaum, now an attorney, had his first job at age 11 working for Louis and Esther Schimmel. He earned $1 per day collecting payment from baseball fans parking in Louis’ parking lot and serving hot dogs at Esther’s stand.

“In those days, when you had a doubleheader, the owners wouldn’t feed the ball players between games,” he said. “The ushers would come out and get hot dogs because the hot dogs in the ballpark were nowhere near as good as her hot dogs. When they were ready, I would hand the hot dogs to the ushers at the player’s entrance. After the game, the players would come by, and they’d get a hot dog. I remember serving hot dogs to Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter.”

Sportsman's Park St. Louis
Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Credit: Courtesy of the St. Louis Jewish Light.
Sportsman's Park St. Louis
All-Star Field, the former site of Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Photo by Bill Motchan.

Schoendienst and Slaughter, MLB Hall of Fame inductees, knew a good hot dog as well as they did a hanging curveball to smash out of the park. So did many other home and visiting players.

Esther Schimmel’s hot dogs were coveted by baseball fans and players because they were cheap (25 cents) and high quality. She sold enough of them to be considered one of the top customers of Mickelberry Meats and a neighborhood bakery on Cardinal home game days.

Esther never ate her specialty, though, because she kept kosher.

“She sold only all-beef hot dogs, but she handled them with egg tongs, so she never touched treif,” recounted Tettlebaum. Esther observed the Sabbath, so she never worked on Friday night or Saturday games. She always walked with the family to shul on Saturday mornings.

On May 8, 1966, Cardinal fans said goodbye to Sportsman’s Park, and Esther Schimmel’s hot dogs. The team moved downtown to a new home, Busch Stadium. Carter Carburetor Company was still located at North Grand Avenue and needed space for employee parking, so it leased the prime spot of land from Esther Schimmel. That provided a steady income after the hot dog stand closed.

Several years ago, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia featured Esther Schimmel in an exhibit titled “Chasing Dreams.”

The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council estimates baseball fans consume some 20 million hot dogs per season. In St. Louis, Kohn’s Deli now carries on the tradition established 97 years ago by Esther Schimmel. Kohn’s Stadium inside Busch Stadium is now in its 11th year selling kosher hot dogs, pastrami and knackwurst sandwiches at Cardinal games.

This story originally appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light.

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