Riley details his ascent from a poor Southern farm boy to the head of one of the world’s most successful hot dog companies.
In his debut memoir, the author tells the story of his incredibly successful career, detailing the steps that led him to become the president of Hygrade Food Products, a world-renowned meat production company that created Ball Park Franks. Along the way, his marketing skills and business acumen help him tackle all manner of tricky situations, from strikes and union negotiations to a very scary incident involving a customer who claimed to have found a razor blade in a hot dog: “[W]e weren’t quite sure what we were dealing with….Had some lunatic tampered with a package at the supermarket?” He also touches on his family life, his love for his wife, Pat, and his sadness at her death after a long, happy marriage. Through it all, however, he remains modest: “I’m hardly the first or last person from a humble background—without financial resources, connections, or the advantage of a college diploma—to rise to the top of a company, industry, or profession.” Riley has had a remarkable life, including a childhood in a sharecropping family, and his long tenure at Hygrade certainly offers some momentous occasions. His voice is clear and strong, but also humble and self-deprecating. Unfortunately, too much of the memoir reads like rote recitation of past events, with too many long-winded descriptions of business technicalities for lay readers to remain entertained. Although Riley discusses several people who were important to him, they tend to blend together, and readers may have difficulty remembering who’s who. Some of the strongest sections are when Riley contributes analysis; for instance, he muses that, as a child in the South, he “lived in a strictly circumscribed world, the opposite of what today would be known as ‘diverse’….The ethnic mix around me changed abruptly once I arrived in Detroit in the 1960s.” This statement opens up some fascinating questions that remain frustratingly unexplored: How did he feel about the change in his circumstances? What was the city really like? More nuance might have made the story more engaging.
A hot dog memoir that ultimately isn’t juicy enough.