On Wisconsin: Hot dogs now his main tune [The Wisconsin State Journal]
(Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 15--LAKE MILLS -- Roseanne Azzaro felt like she was back home.
How could she not with neon green relish, peppers, celery salt, tomatoes, onions and a pickle spear gracing her Nathan's Famous hot dogs stuffed into poppy seed-speckled S. Rosen's buns?
The 48-year-old Cicero, Ill., native, who recently moved to Lake Mills, had just returned from buying a snowmobile in Clyman when she forced her husband to make a pit stop at Doyle's Dogs.
The hot dog stand, just east of Lake Mills' downtown at the corner of Lake and East Main streets, is in a former gas station. It's owned and operated by Pat Doyle, who in June retired from a 32-year career in education as a music teacher and principal.
"Are you from Chicago? Because you're really good at this," Azzaro asked Doyle as he topped her five hot dogs. "I love it that it's so quaint. It fits this town."
A city of 5,783 people would seem an unlikely spot for a thriving Chicago-style hot dog stand. Doyle's Dogs, however, has found a niche in this community that also is home to the American Legion Post 67 hamburger stand founded in 1926 and open only on Friday afternoons.
Doyle's is open from 11 a.m. to "3-ish" each Thursday through Sunday and is scheduled to close for the season sometime in October, depending on the weather.
When I stopped for an extended lunch last week, customers included employees who had walked over from Hamlin, a nearby electronics manufacturer; a trio of construction workers from Oshkosh working on the Lake Mills wastewater treatment plant and bicyclists from Watertown.
Betty Litscher of Beaver Dam had lived in Lake Mills for 20 years but was back in town to babysit her 5-year-old grandson, Eli.
"It's just old-time flavor," said Litscher, as Eli repeatedly reminded Doyle not to put onions on his hot dog. "It's great to see this corner utilized."
Doyle's Dogs began in 2008 as a simple hot dog cart operating in the city's downtown on Saturdays and Sundays. In 2011, Doyle moved to permanent digs on property that for almost 50 years was home to a small gas station. Doyle purchased the property in 2006 with no clear plans for its future.
That's no longer the case.
The pumps and underground tanks are gone, but the 200-square-foot building remains and has been remodeled with new plumbing and a new roof. The building now serves as a prep and storage area. Sandwiches are dispensed from the "All American Chicago Hot Dogger" cart, which Doyle hauls to and from the site each day because it's too big to fit through the door of the tiny, cottage-like building.
The hot dog stand operation is outside the building and consists of the hot dog cart Doyle purchased on Craigslist, a freezer filled with ice cream treats and an elevated table on which the hot dogs, brats and Polish sausages get their toppings. There is also a cooler filled with soda and a rack of potato chips, both self-serve, which allows Doyle to focus on tending to waiting customers.
Umbrellas ("when they're up we're open" is the motto), tables and chairs dot the newly poured patio. Doyle also has plans to add a service window to the building to allow him to operate on rainy days and stay dry. But on nice days he still plans to move the operation outside.
"We really like the ambience," said Doyle, who gets help from his wife, Mary Doyle, on weekends. "I've been just blown away by the response from the community."
Pat Doyle, 56, grew up in Waukesha where, while at Catholic Memorial High School, he worked at John's Drive-In next to the Highway 59 outdoor theater. A trumpet player, Doyle graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in music education and got his first job at Lakewood School in the Twin Lakes #4 School District in western Kenosha County.
Doyle also holds masters' degrees in music and administration, worked for Cascio Interstate Music in New Berlin and later returned to public schools, ending his career back in Twin Lakes as a principal.
He went back to school in 2007 in Milwaukee after seeing a nationally televised story on CBS about Hot Dog University. The two-day course gave Doyle the basics and the motivation to start his own business.
When he retired this summer from his career in education, it allowed him to keep the hot dog stand open four days a week and focus full-time on his growing business.
His new routine includes trips to Woodman's, Costco and Sam's Club for supplies, replacing the 122-mile round trip he used to make five days a week from his home in Lake Mills to Twin Lakes.
"I just look at it as a change," Doyle said. "It's a jump, but I believe in what we're doing."
And so do his customers, who request just mustard and no ketchup on their dogs about 50 percent of the time.
A Chicago-style dog goes for $3. A soda and a bag of chips can be had for another $1. On Thursday, the traffic was steady, allowing Doyle only a few short breaks between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Sisters Julie Strader, 57, and Jean Cowell, 67, both of Lake Mills, were among the customers. They make it a point to stop by at least once a week.
"You should be here on weekends. It's packed," Strader said. "He's got a little gold mine here."
Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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