By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Apr 10, 2015 at 11:04 AM

By day, Ryan Ziegler is a teacher at MacDowell Montessori School. By night, he’s a budding entrepreneur.

His latest project is a food cart he hopes to launch this summer. And it’s a doozy.

The idea traces all the way back to 2008. Ziegler was a freshman at UW-LaCrosse, and he and his buddies decided they were going to come up with a new restaurant concept.

"We decided it would be a counterpoint to Hooters," he says. "We’d call it Dongers.  The restaurant would serves all kinds of sausages the waitstaff would be comprised of attractive, scantily dressed men wearing Speedos."

The joke persisted for four years, says Ziegler, and he and his friends always laughed about it. But, this past fall, Ziegler decided to make the concept into a reality. His first step was to create a Twitter account.

"When I got that first message on Twitter, it was pretty crazy," he says. "And I started getting excited. I began working on the art for the logo during my free periods at school, and it all went from there."

In the 2014 version of Dongers: A Wisconsin Thing – which will debut this June as a bike-powered food cart --  Ziegler has ditched the scantily-clad men. But, he still plans to serve sausages... er, Dongers.

Each Donger will start with sausage from LeRoy Meats in Horicon, WI not far from Ziegler’s hometown of Mayville. Cheeses will be sourced from Widmer’s Cheese Cellar in Theresa, WI. The buns will come from Milwaukee's own Canfora Bakery. And condiments – like Big Butz BBQ and 100 Mile Sauce Company ketchup – are all made by Wisconsin entrepreneurs.

"I love food," says Ziegler. "And I love Wisconsin. So, why not use my business to support others who are doing the same?"

The Sconnie features a naturally cased hotdog topped with homemade smoked macaroni and cheese, applewood smoked bacon and barbeque sauce. The Number 5 kicks it up a notch with chorizo, corn and jalapeno salsa and jalapeno brick cheese.

The L-A-X pays homage to Ziegler’s time in LaCrosse with an Oktoberfest brat topped with maple apple bacon chutney and mustard. The Festa combines Italian sausage with giardiniera, mozzarella and fresh basil.  And the Thanksgiving Feast sports a turkey brat covered with garlic and chive mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.

The recipes are a result of experimentation, Ziegler tells me.

"I literally sat down with my girlfriend and we started experimenting," he says. "With the Sconnie, we wanted the mac & cheese to be bold. So, we experimented with a number of different cheeses. And the original idea for the LAX had an apple slaw with it. But, the combination wasn’t doing it for me. So, we got to work on an apple maple syrup chutney."

Each Donger will be served with a side of Sprecher's beer-flavored kettle chips and flavor-infused water for $7.95.

For those who prefer their sausages on the more basic side, Ziegler says they’ll offer "Justas" – as in "justa hot dog" or "justa bratwurst" (just $5 with chips and water).

Ziegler says he plans to be out on the streets by mid- to late-June.  He’ll populate the usual areas near the U.S. Bank Building and the courthouse, as well as making appearances for the late-night crowd on Water and Brady Streets.

"I really love teaching," says Ziegler. "But this is something I’ve done completely on my own, and I’m really proud of it. For now, this will be the ultimate summer and weekend job for me. But, who knows? If things take off, I might consider giving up my teaching job."

In the meantime, you can follow @DongersMKE on Twitter. Or support Ziegler’s Kickstarter campaign.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.