By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Feb 10, 2021 at 11:01 AM Photography: M.K. Drayna

What happens when a love for both delicious sandwiches and furry friends collide?

Customers will find out when Riley’s Sandwich Company opens to the public on Feb. 20 at 4473 N. Oakland Ave.

Inspired by sandwich icons like New York’s Katz Deli and San  Francisco’s Deli Board, the new venue will specialize in creative sandwiches, salads and sides. At the same time, the business will also showcase a separate-but-front-facing retail space where dog lovers can hang out with their pooches and purchase dog treats and swag. 

Neon sign that says X

For foodies who love dogs

Behind Riley’s Sandwich Shop is Jessica Ludwig, a long-time dog lover who says her dream job has always been to open and operate a dog sanctuary. It’s an idea which evolved over the years into a vision for Riley’s Sandwich Co., a place where folks could come and grab a bite of something exceptional to eat without leaving their furry friends behind. 

“I have such a huge love for both food – especially sandwiches –and dogs," says Ludwig,  "That it only made sense to bring the two together. We take our dog Riley with us whenever we can; but we’ve also run into any number of scenarios where one of us has to stay outside with the dog while the other person goes inside. My goal was to create a place where both dogs and people were welcome.” 

Ludwig says she's taken inspiration from dog friendly venues like the Iron Horse Hotel where Riley – a rescued Beagle, Corgi, Jack Russell Terrier mix – is just as welcome as any human.

Riley the dogX

“It’s one of those amazing places where you do run into people and their dogs on a regular basis,” she says. “And spending time there really inspired me and gave me confidence that we could create a similarly dog friendly spot.”

Ludwig says she was able to move forward with her idea thanks to help from Athena Agoudemos of the UW-Milwaukee Small Business Development Center, who assisted in brokering connections and offering business guidance that assisted in bringing Ludwig’s vision to life.

Like a dog with two tails

Inside the 600 square foot venue, located next door to Nino’s Southern Sides, guests will find two things: a welcoming, dog-friendly retail space decorated with homage to precious pooches; and a pick-up spot for beautifully presented, creative sandwiches.

Inside the retail space, guests can expect elements like dog-themed wallpaper, a television highlighting dogs available for adoption and interactive elements like a dog selfie booth, offering the opportunity for canine owners to capture special moments with their happy hounds.

They will also be able to pick up dog treats from local companies like Leashless Lab and Good Hound Co., and peruse an evolving collection of swag and fun dog-themed finds.

And while Riley is unlikely to spend much time in the shop, she’ll be there in spirit thanks to a wall of puppy portraits on her namesake wall. 

Wall of dog photosX

As for the sandwich shop... that's an element that will be significantly less visible.  Guests will find a menu and ordering instructions (Riley’s Rule) inside the shop; but in order to keep food safety at the fore, the sandwich shop portion of Riley’s will operate a bit like a ghost kitchen, with no dining area, pick-up window or counter.

Instead, all orders will be placed online (via the Toast app or QR code) for either pick-up or delivery. Carry-out guests can wait for their orders in the retail shop, if they’d like. When their food is ready, they will receive a text alert and a Riley’s employee will tranverse the tiny alley alongside the building, bringing the goods from the hidden kitchen directly to the consumer. 

In keeping with its unique model, the restaurant will also operate sans tipping; instead employees will be offered bonuses based on sales and given opportunities to contribute to the business based on their own unique skill sets. The goal, says Ludwig, is to create a place where employees feel invested, a true part of the operations.

As for the menu, guests will find a small ever-changing selection of housemade sandwiches (including brunch options on weekends) along with salads and sides, all driven by both demand and the seasons.

There will also be a selection of beverages, including beer from Black Husky Brewing and wines from New Glarus’ Bailey’s Run Vineyard & Winery (also, unsurprisingly, named for a beloved pup), along with cocktail kits, including brunch-worthy mimosa kits with freshly squeezed orange juice.

The non-traditional restaurant kitchen will use sous-vide as a primary cooking method, with proteins and vegetables finished in the oven. And guests will find a mix of imaginative sandwiches and salads, along with staples like house-braised  brisket sandwiches; a chicken Philly with onions,  peppers and housemade cheese sauce; and mid-rare steak with garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms and cheese (pictured below).

Steak sandwichX

Vegetarian and vegan options will also be a feature, as will brunch sandwiches featuring omelettes a la sous-vide. All sandwiches will be served on breads sourced from Wild Flour Bakery, and sides will include items like Wisconsin-sourced potato chips; vegetables and hummus; and housemade guacamole and chips. (You can get a peep at more by following Riley's on Instagram).

Ludwig says she’s excited to introduce Riley’s to the public, as well as to be a part of the lively business community in Shorewood.

“We love this area,” she says. “We love the lake. And it’s such an active area in so many ways. It’s the perfect location for a business like this, and we can’t wait to welcome all of our neighbors and their dogs.”

Beginning Feb. 20, Riley’s Sandwich Co. will be open Wednesday through Friday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.