One couple's dream: Yooper Dogz

Whether you live in Menominee or are just passing through, you won’t have to travel far for a customized hot dog sandwich.

Yooper Dogz, offering a variety of sandwich options for hot dog connoisseurs, opened its doors on 13th Street in June 2021. The eatery is the culmination of a life-long dream for owners Ronald and Victoria Vertz, veterans of past business ventures who combined their talents to create this welcome addition to the city’s Broadway District. 

“We kind of wanted a restaurant in this neighborhood. We bought the house behind the shop 12 years ago. At that time, this building was vacant and it was all grass in back, there wasn’t a parking lot there. Ron started cutting all the lawns around us because he didn’t like how (overgrown) it looked,” Tori said, noting that all that work gave Ron a feel for the neighborhood.

“Oven King and Howie’s Pizza were later located in this building, one after the other. It was after that, when Kris Rausch bought the building next door and opened Three Bridge Brewery, that he approached us,” she said. 

“When Kris first opened he thought his brews and pizza together were a wonderful combination. Then, when the pizza places didn’t work out, we got together and talked about opening our ‘hot dog’ restaurant. 

It was a dream the couple had held onto for years, while holding other jobs.  The couple owned and operated an area paintball business for a time. Tori, who is 45, also sold cars at a local automotive group for several years. 

Once they were in a position to start their business, they needed to “fix up” the building. The couple paid for the renovations themselves. “Those expenses were out of pocket,” Ron said. 

Dreaming, menu planning, and tasting were preparations long in the making. Tori’s son, James Brown, was a record-setting player for the 2013 Menominee Maroons High School football team. Brown is now a star rookie member of the Green Bay Blizzards IFL team and a recipient of one of its treasured Golden Helmet Awards. He was invited to try out in the XFL in San Diego.

Tori recounted that several years ago, when James was still in high school, the couple invited members of the Maroons football team over for dinner to try out 12 various hot dog combinations and toppings. Each hot dog selection was then scored with one to five stars. The Pooch (with peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese spread, swiss cheese, bacon, almonds and jalapeno jam) was a team favorite and is the closest offering to a dessert. 

The Yooper Dog is among the most popular of the 12 varieties.“Those original 12 hot dogs are now on the board, it’s not changed since we opened. The Yooper Dog and the Three Bridge Brat (with mustard, dill pickle, onion and sauerkraut) are very popular,” Tori said.

All of the hot dogs weigh in at one-quarter pound each. “These are big hot dogs, each one is bigger than a quarter around,” she said.

“We get a lot of customers asking if we have a Chicago Dog. Our Chicago K-9 is not a Chicago dog. It’s got mustard, pickle relish, onion, sport peppers, tomato and celery salt. There’s no dill pickle and no colored relish because we’re Yoopers and we’re in Yooperland,” she added. 

Ron was inspired by the well-known Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. 

“During the Depression (Nathan) sold hot dogs for just five cents and people were fighting to get in line. I want to offer a good meal experience to both young and old whose budgets are tight, to those on fixed incomes, the same way Nathan did.”

The couple uses the freshest ingredients with bread baked to order from the  nearby Stephenson Bakery. They travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin, every Monday to purchase produce at several locations – ingredients that will be used in both the sandwiches and Ron’s homemade soups. 

In addition to a variety of hot dog combinations and soups, Ron and Tori offer weekly specials that are featured on their Facebook page. 

A previous weekly special, “The Big Cheese,” contained seven types of cheese: Cheddar, American, Mozzarella, Pepper Jack, Colby, Provolone and Monterey Jack.

The couple believe in giving back to their community. They’ve donated to fundraisers for the Disabled American Veterans, providing “hot dogz,” milk, and water, as well as cash donations from customers and gift buckets. They’ve also donated to Crime Stoppers, Menominee Animal Shelter, Spies Public Library in Menominee, and the Menominee Homeless Shelter. 

Ron keeps his restaurant dreams alive and growing. He’s considering offering a weekly breakfast special sometime in the future. 

The eatery is the culmination of a years-long dream for owners Ronald and Victoria Vertz.The couple average about 62 hours a week working at the restaurant, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Ron spends every Monday evenings making a variety of soups for use that week.

Ron, 56, retired from L.E. Jones Co., a manufacturer of valve seat inserts, in Menominee, last August, finding it too difficult to manage that job and the restaurant.

“After we opened about 100 L.E. Jones employees came here and said, ‘You’ve been saying for years that you’d open a hot dog place and you’ve done it.’” 

Ann Dallman has lifelong roots in Michigan’s UP. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after retiring from teaching. Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received a State History Award (Books/Youth) from the Historical Society of Michigan as well as a Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist and a UP Notable Book. Her second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, also received the Historical Society of Michigan State Award.