Just six months after opening Riley’s Sandwich Co. in Shorewood, the venue’s dog-loving owners Jessica and John Ludwig are preparing to unleash a new pup-friendly concept on the Historic Third Ward.
Riley’s Social House is the name of the new endeavor, which would feature a carry-out only sandwich shop and a separate-but-adjacent dog-friendly bar and social space.
The Ludwigs are currently in negotiations to lease the former Fitness Together space at 411 E. Menomonee St. If all goes well, it’s paw-sible the new venue could open by spring of 2022.
Barking up a new tree
“We didn’t know exactly what to expect when we opened in Shorewood,” notes Jessica. “But, people have been so welcoming, and we have actually established a lot of loyal customers. We’ve been very lucky.”
John, who recently left his full-time job to dedicate his energy to growing the Riley’s brand, says business has been steady enough that the Ludwigs have been able to hire additional staff, growing from three employees to nine, while maintaining an employment model that capitalizes on each employee’s unique skill set and allows them to invest their talents in a growing business.
“Our team is amazing,” he says. “Everyone cares so much about the product. And the response from customers has really given us so much confidence in what we do. It’s inspired us to really be our best, but also to give people even more.”
As they pondered the idea of a second location, Jessica says they looked at spaces in various parts of town.
“We were trying to zero in on an area where we love to spend our time,” she says. “The Third Ward is one of those places. We love the mood and the vibe. There’s lots of foot traffic and people are out walking their dogs. It just feels like the kind of place where a Riley’s would really do well.”
As it turns out, Riley agrees.
Among the many features which have set Riley’s Sandwich Co. in Shorewood apart is the neon sign in the window which reads: “Gourmet Grub Dogs Welcome.”
“That’s really become our motto,” says Jessica. “That’s our brand, and that’s really what we’re really hoping to carry over to the new location.”
The main attraction at Riley’s Social House will be the bar area, a space where humans can grab a drink, hang out with their dogs (dogs will be required to be leashed) and socialize with other dog-loving humans and their pooches.
“We really want this to have a bit of a brewery vibe,” John notes. “A relaxed space that’s laid back, but welcoming. We love hanging out at breweries. There are families and couples...it’s very Wisconsin. Everyone is very courteous; they say ‘Hi’ to one another and they socialize. And that’s what we want..”
Guests can expect a somewhat traditional bar set up with 12 draft lines showcasing local craft brews, a small selection of wines by the glass pour or bottle, and a curated list of cocktails.
But everything in the space will be engineered for dogs and their owners, from counter-height bar-style seating along the front windows to tables and chairs (and potentially soft seating) situated for socializing. A small semi-private area will also be outfitted with larger tables to accommodate groups as well as corporate or private events.
“We love the vibe at places like Boone & Crockett where there are all different places to sit,” says Jessica. “So we’re going to offer a variety of options so that people can pick and choose based on their mood.”
And yes – while there’s no dining room to be found – guests will have access to sandwiches, snacks and sides, which will be available for carry-out with pick-up at the venue’s carry-out window.
Guests will be able to place their orders online or via a kiosk in the bar. When it’s ready, the food can then be picked up and consumed at the bar, at the park across the street or at their home or office.
The sandwich shop will feature a similar menu to the Shorewood location. Options will include favorite sandwiches like the Steak Kensington (medium rare steak, house made horseradish spread, mozzarella, roasted mushrooms and onions, $16.45); and the CBR (organic chicken breast, bacon, housemade ranch, avocado, tomato, cheese, lettuce, $16.45).
There will also be options like their Brussels sprouts salad with romaine lettuce, quinoa, pecans, avocado, parmesan and champagne vinaigrette ($10.45) plus snacks like their house queso with tortilla chips ($4.35). There will be dog-friendly dishes as well.
The bar will also feature a special happy hour menu featuring drink specials and items like tacos, sous vide wings and pretzels, which can be ordered and picked up during designated hours.
“At the end of the day,” John says, “We just want to create a space where you can be unapologetic in your love for dogs… and enjoy a drink at the same time.”
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.