The people of Milwaukee are no strangers to hot dogs and bratwursts, but what about a jalapeño Cheddar brat topped with habanero beer mustard and hot kraut?

It’s on the menu at Vanguard, which restaurateur Jim McCann and former bar manager Chris Schulist opened two years ago along with Chef Shay Linkus. Located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Bay View, the fast casual is a part of the local nightlife scene while also capturing daytime business with its hearty food, full bar, and signature cocktails.

Schulist talks about the concept’s service model, its off-the-wall menu options, and its dedication to community.

What inspired you to open a hot-dog-and-sausage–centric concept?

Nothing says Milwaukee like beer and bratwursts. Since it was such a familiar food, we thought we could “push the boundaries.” We like the idea that our customers could try something adventurous like an Octopus Chorizo or Duck BLT, or play it safe with our house-made bratwursts. We also make our own vegan/vegetarian sausages for the non-meat-eating crowd.

What made you decide Vanguard should be a limited-service restaurant?

We are a glorified hot dog stand attached to a bar. We wanted to keep it fun, easy, and welcoming. You can stop in for a quick bite, or you can hang out for hours with your friends. If you’re not sitting at the bar, all you do is get up and place an order with the kitchen or the bartender, and someone will bring it out to you.

Had you always planned to incorporate such unusual, international flavors?

We wanted to offer classics, but then have our chef come up with sausages and combinations you don’t see every day. If you just want a plain hot dog, that’s fine. If you want to be a little more adventurous, that’s great. We just wanted to offer a variety of items to appeal to a variety of people.

Do you have a favorite?

My current favorite is the Thai Breaker: pork sausage made with lemongrass, ginger, and cilantro, topped with diced carrots, lettuce, and peanut sauce.

What’s next for Vanguard?

Right now we are focusing on coming up with new ideas. We like to change our menu every quarter with new Stylized Sausages to keep it fresh and interesting. We also change our draft house cocktails to fit the season.

We have five new sausages debuting very soon. We love it when people get really excited about our new menu items. More than anything, it seems like the neighborhood has embraced us, and we want them to keep coming back.

Emerging Concepts, Fast Food, Growth, Menu Innovations, Story