FreeStyle adds Chicago-style hotdogs
Dave Brandner believes he’s found the way to increase wintertime sales at his FreeStyle frozen yogurt shop in downtown Hudson.
Brandner has joined forces with Mazen Muna, founder of The Dogg Haus Chicago-style hotdog shops, to offer the first Dogg Haus location outside of Milwaukee.
“It just dawned on me that this would be something that we could integrate into FreeStyle that would diversify our platform,” said Brandner, a graduate of Marquette University who was acquainted with the hotdog shops from his visits to Milwaukee.
After a trip to Milwaukee last January, Brandner contacted Muna and the two started talking about opening a Dogg Haus franchise in Hudson.
They share similar career paths and hit it off. Both were corporate salesmen before launching out as entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.
The first Dogg Haus opened on Brady Street near the Milwaukee Art Museum in April 2005. Two years later, Manu opened a second shop on the Marquette campus. He now has five locations in the city.
The Dogg Haus has won numerous “best of” Milwaukee awards in the past decade, including “best hot dog” every year from either Shepherd Express newspaper, Milwaukee Magazine or onmilwaukee.com.
Brandner started FreeStyle Yogurt in 2012. The Hudson shop at the corner of Second and Locust streets opened in October of that year. He now has four locations. The others are in Roseville, Minneapolis and Chanhassen.
It’s called FreeStyle because customers make their own frozen yogurt desserts, choosing from a variety of soft-serve flavors and topping them off with a big assortment candies, nuts and more.
Brandner calls frozen yogurt a guilt-free alternative to ice cream. It has a third of the calories and half the sugar of ice cream, and improves digestion, he says.
The Dogg Haus inside FreeStyle opened on Labor Day.
“It integrates seamlessly, really, into our current business,” Brandner said.
He said the small prep area needed for the hotdogs is what makes the “store-within-a-store” model work.
The Dogg Haus offers 16 styles of hotdogs with names like Chicago Dogg, Santa Fe, Cajun Sizzler, Atlanta, Rome, Hollywood and Wisconsin.
“The one, the only, the original” Chicago dog comes with yellow mustard, onions, relish, tomatoes, two sport peppers, a kosher pickle spear and a dash of celery salt.
The Santa Fe is covered in salsa, sour cream and jalapeno peppers.
The Rome dog - “the Pope’s choice,” according to thedoghaus.com, features hot or mild giardiniera peppers, mozzarella and a sample of Italian beef.
The Wisconsin dog is the business’s nod to the home state. It comes with mozzarella, cheddar and nacho cheese.
All of the hotdogs are made with Vienna Beef franks.
Customers can also build their own dogs, choosing from bratwurst, polish sausage, Italian beef and sausage, BBQ beef and franks for the meat, and 30 different types of toppings.
Chili, soup, cheese curds, French fries, potato chips and dill pickles are offered as sides.
The prices are affordable, according to Brandner.
He’s also offering combination deals that include a five-ounce dish of frozen yogurt for dessert.
In a further departure from the past, Brandner has added soft-service ice cream and gelato to the FreeStyle offerings. The word yogurt is being dropped from the business name to reflect the change.
“I think people would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between our product and ice cream in a blind taste-test, but there are some people who are loyal to ice cream,” he explained. “Now there’s something for everyone.”
Under the new format, customers are able to choose from two ice cream flavors, two to four gelato flavors, and six to eight frozen yogurt flavors. The flavors will change from time to time.
“It has been very gratifying. It’s also been challenging,” the 39-year-old Brandner said of leaving the security of the corporate world to start his own business.
“If someone told me when I was in high school that I would start my own frozen yogurt shop, I would have said, ‘Never in a million years.’ ”
Brandner grew up in Medford, a small north-central Wisconsin city.
His mother, Patricia (Brandner) Smith, is a former principal of St. Patrick School and still resides here.