Plans for a new hot dog joint on North Water Street in Milwaukee’s Lower East Side neighborhood are finally moving forward, but in a slightly different direction.
Milwaukee-based Riley’s Good Dogs LLC last October was in the process of opening a fast-casual restaurant in the former Moto-Scoot building at 1652 N. Water Street. Now, the business is about to launch as a mobile food truck that will operate primarily from that high-traffic site, owner Hank Stiehl told BizTimes Milwaukee.
“The goal and the dream is still to be able to turn that into a full brick-and-mortar restaurant, but given the challenges presented to the restaurant industry by the COVID-19 pandemic, we felt it was more prudent to start with something a little bit more flexible,” said Stiehl.
The mobile option allows Riley’s to test the market before fully diving in, he said, and it requires much less capital than it would to open a physical location, which is appealing amidst tough times for the restaurant industry.
Riley’s Good Dogs food truck will begin serving up its traditional and vegan hot dogs, sausages, and loaded “zoomies” fries as soon as early January, depending on the city’s license approval and inspection process. The business recently leased a retail space at 720 N. Water St. to use as a base kitchen for the food truck, as well as catering and delivery services in the future.
While the food truck will be parked at 1652 N. Water St. most of the time, Stiehl said, there’s always the option to travel around the area.
“The glory of having a fully mobile establishment, where everything is on board, is we definitely will be looking into catering events and supporting different communities and areas around Milwaukee, and really not being fully locked into that space,” he said. “We want to see if there are some other spots around town where people are looking for hot dogs.”
The former Moto-Scoot property and its 1,120-square-foot, 92-year-old building is owned by Bill Weslow, who sold the motorcycle retail business in 2017. By that time, Weslow had already been in talks with Stiehl, who is a longtime friend, about opening a restaurant at the site. A burger, taco and ice cream shop was proposed at the site by different operators in 2017.
Everything on Riley’s menu will have a vegan, or plant-based, alternative, which is something Stiehl, a vegan himself, has championed from the start. He said diners who don’t consume meat or dairy won’t have to make any compromises to try Riley’s Good Dogs, and they can bring their meat-eating friends along, too.
Ahead of its opening, Riley’s has been building interest with local diners using social media and by getting acquainted with its neighbors along the high-traffic stretch of North Water Street.
“From the people in the neighborhood who know we’ve been working on this for a while, to the folks that we talk to everyday at Fresh Thyme, or people coming over from North Shore Bank up the street, even people who live in the north end apartments… we’re always getting questions,” said Stiehl. “People are definitely getting excited for what we’ve got.”