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The American Meat Institute says that from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year, Americans consume about seven billion hot dogs -- or 818 hot dogs per second.
Two Upper St. Clair men, John Twerdok, 49, and Daniel Brodland, 23, hope to take a bite out of that statistic with their new gadget.
The men have worked for the last five years to patent their version of a "hot dog man," a kitchen tool that cuts a hot dog into the shape of a person.
It all started simply enough. Standing in the lunch line at a church camp out, Mr. Brodland carved a frankfurter with a penknife, much in the same way his mother did when he was a little boy: one cut on the each side for arms, one cut in the middle for the legs and three slits at the top for the mouth and eyes. On the grill, the hot dog transformed; arms began to curl outward, the legs separated and a grin appeared.
The only problem was now all the other kids at the camp wanted their dogs cut that way, too.
Mr. Twerdok, who was volunteering as youth director, recalls being impressed. "I thought, oh, my gosh, I should make something that stamps these things out," he recalled.
Mr. Twerdok, married with four children, is an engineer for Moldflow Corp. in McCandless.
Five years and more than $40,000 later, Mr. Twerdok was awarded the patent for a "device for shaping a food product."
The pair named their creation: Frank Former.
Shaped like a bun, the Frank Former mold holds the uncooked hot dog and a hinged cover with six plastic blades makes the cuts for the arms, legs and face as it closes. The "hot dog man" is outlined in red on the tan cover. The hot dog turns into the shape of a person as it's cooked. It will retail for about $12.
After the camping trip, Mr. Twerdok still had the idea in the back of his mind when he took his college-bound daughter on a tour of the University of Pittsburgh' s Swanson Product Innovation Center.
Amazed at the center's capacity for design, prototyping and some limited production, Mr. Twerdok asked the center's director at the time, Dr. Mike Lovell, about the hot dog man idea. Sometimes the Swanson center takes an idea from the public and develops it in its Product Realization class.
"John wanted to pursue this and I thought it was very innovative and creative." Dr. Lovell said.
The project was approved and Mr. Twerdok acted as a mentor, helping the students develop a prototype and a marketing plan. The market research done by the students stunned him.
"The number of hot dogs consumed in this country is staggering," Mr. Twerdok said. "Even after the kids validated the design and I knew the market was there, the challenge was to find the safest way to cut a slippery piece of meat and make the device look aesthetically pleasing to the public," Mr. Twerdok said.
Excited that the idea was viable, he went back to Mr. Brodland and they set up a partnership.
Mr. Brodland, the son of Dr. David and Laura Brodland, of Upper St. Clair, is a business administration major at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.
Mr. Twerdok used his engineering background to pursue the patent and prototype, Mr. Brodland worked on the marketing end.
The patent was granted in November 2006, but the partners were not sure where to go to finalize the mold design so the project stalled.
On advice of friends, they found their way to the Plastics Technology Center at Penn State Behrend College in Erie.
Tom Moyak, project engineer for the center, said they design and develop new products and solve manufacturing issues for customers who don't have plastics engineers available. The center is state and federally funded and began as an outreach of the university to give back to the community.
The concept got help from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which offers funding help for new ideas within the state.
Omega Plastics in Erie, cast the mold and is the manufacturer. A distributor has not been named yet.
The men brainstormed on names and in the end, decided on Mr. Twerdok's functional name, the Frank Former, for which they are applying for a trademark.
The first batch of Frank Formers is under way and when production samples arrive later this week, they'll be packaged and sent to friends, family and some commercial sites along with a survey.
The partners hope to begin marketing the product to hot dog companies, QVC and home catalogs under the company name B&T Enterprises LLC, headquartered in Upper St. Clair.
"If you asked me this several years ago, it was just a crazy idea. But think about all the crazy ideas that have been successful over the years, like the Pet Rock, " Mr. Brodland said.
For more, go to www.hotdogcutter.com .
First Published January 31, 2008 6:29 am