In the Dogg Haus

Chicago-style hot dog joint makes its way to Water Street


Story by Zack Katz, Freelancer

Off-handed humor and building curiosity surround the supposedly “cursed” 416 Water St. space, in which three businesses have come and subsequently wandered away in the previous four years alone – each time leaving community members to speculate about the next business to pop up in the wake of its short-lived predecessors.

The former wine bistro did not remain empty for long, as the emblazoned red and yellow logo of The Dogg Haus promptly stood up in its place. Two weeks after the renovation began, the owners of the hot dog joint opened their doors in time for Homecoming celebrations.

In defiance of any superficial allegations comes CEO of the Chicago-style eatery, Mazen Muna. Having graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2002, Muna said he loves Ramen Noodles for a reason, and hasn’t forgotten the importance of accessibility and low cost in a college environment.

“Our food is hot and affordable, and after a night of drinking, it sure beats the hell out of a cold sub,” Muna said.

The Dogg Haus, a Chicago-style hot dog joint, now stands at 416 Water St., where three business have come and gone in the last four years.
The Dogg Haus, a Chicago-style hot dog joint, now stands at 416 Water St., where three business have come and gone in the last four years.

The Dogg Haus, a Chicago-style hot dog joint, now stands at 416 Water St., where three business have come and gone in the last four years.

“People have said at our Marquette location if they lose their friends while out on the town, they know they can be found at The Dogg Haus at the end of the night.”

If it’s any indication of how his seventh franchise might fare, Muna’s munchies have been voted Milwaukee’s best hot dog for nine consecutive years since the Brew City staple’s opening in 2005. He’s set on using “fresh and naturally heated” ingredients in place of anything canned or microwaved.

Beyond the menu’s draw, he said the lively atmosphere and staff commissioned alongside franchise manager Dave Brandner will produce return customers.

“In comparison to what’s currently available on Water Street, this is a fresh concept for the area that I think students will really latch on to,” Muna said. “Our employees are encouraged to be themselves, they’re not micromanaged.”

Although Muna strives to adjust his business to the needs of the college campus, he said hot dogs offered at The Dogg Haus certainly aren’t special interest items limited to students.“No matter what time it is, we’re confident enough to serve people in suits, doctors, lawyers during the day,” Muna said. “At the same time, we keep that quality consistent when it comes to the night life.”

Staring through a window cluttered by plants and event flyers in his specialty gift shop, Truckers Union manager Alex Zink has witnessed the change of businesses on 416 Water St. firsthand.

“In four years of working across the street, I’ve seen three different businesses move in and out of that space,” Zink said. “I think if something is going to fill the void, it’s got to either be a retail shop or a food experience that is unique to both it’s location and customer base.”

While The Dogg Haus thrives in Milwaukee’s big-city atmosphere, Zink said Muna and Brandner will need to shift their focus to fitting the collective puzzle of Water Street’s quaint economy.

“Water Street employees in particular tend to keep our money really local,” Zink said. “For the most part, we drink at The Joynt, and we eat or drink coffee at the Nucleus. … It has to fit the niche of the street, or it’s just going to go under.”

Still more finicky than the Water Street employees are the customers who frequent the businesses.

Shining a flashlight through countless identification cards, university student and bouncer Rick Wilson said he inadvertently gathers more information than just proof of age in his study of faces in the nightlife. Down the street at the door of his bar, Brothers, Wilson witnesses students religiously revisiting their favorite bars and shops, and he’s no exception.

“As a junior I have a trajectory mapped out on Water Street. … A path I’m not necessarily looking to deviate from,” Wilson said. “I see this in a lot of people my age, so the best marketing strategy might be to draw a newer crowd, freshmen maybe.”

Muna said with the draw of his dogs, picky choosers are the least of his concern. Though he and Brandner come from the fast-paced Milwaukee bustle, they’re ready to join the scaled-down Water Street habitat and slow the 416 curse’s roll.