There’s a slight cognitive disconnect when one first encounters Mick Ridgway’s vegan hot dog cart. It’s not his plant-based frankfurters, which reject those sacrosanct animal ingredients—including snouts, lips, and buttholes of pigs—that are encased in American tradition. It’s the proprietor himself.
Ridgway, 25, isn’t the prototypical animal activist. He’s not a pamphlet-waving militant, nor does he exude an odor of patchouli from a sea of tie-dye. He’s just a regular dude, he says, who likes sports, motorcycles, and playing the drums.
“I want to show people that being vegan isn’t weird at all—that’s the idea behind it,” says Ridgway, who abstains from consuming and wearing animal products. “And a hot dog is a great starting point for that discussion.”
For meat-loving denizens of Omaha and vegetarian outliers alike, Ridgway’s vegan-next-door diplomacy and “right man for the job” attitude has helped transform his enterprise, Fauxmaha Hot Dogs, into less of a hipster novelty and more of a foodie destination in the short year it’s been open for business.
Of course, Ridgway’s tastes-like-the-real-thing-maybe-even-better franks probably have something to do with his success, too.
“Hot dogs are already fake, so they’re easier to replicate—even ordinary, store-bought hot dogs can have a soy filler in them,” he explains. “So hot dogs are a very good stepping stone to get people to try new things.”
A Fauxmaha hot dog is a quarter pound of seitan, or “wheat meat,” and resembles a bratwurst in both size and color. The smoky, salty from-scratch links achieve a textural symbiosis between their pillowy middles and chewy, naturally developed casings that provide an ample amount of snap to each bite. The only thing missing is the cholesterol. Ridgway jokes that he makes up for that deficiency with about 25 grams of protein per link.
“My hot dogs don’t leave a lot to the imagination,” he admits. “They’re pretty straight up.”
Still, even with all the traditional hot dog fixings that can compliment Fauxmaha’s classic hot dog taste, and specialty franks that include a slightly sweet, subtly spicy bánh mi dog, Ridgway says there are some who can’t help but flash a look of bewilderment or disgust when confronted with his “cruelty-free” comfort food.
“I chalk it up to tradition and the vegan stereotypes that I see in movies and on TV as vegans being weird, being weak, being frail,” he says. “(Vegans) are not portrayed as strong, capable types, and that definitely trickles down into how people view vegan food.”
Ridgway also says he isn’t about to play the martyr when he’s slinging pups outside of Soggy Paws in the Old Market or grilling franks in Modern Love’s Midtown parking lot during the spring, summer, and fall. Besides, he’s got “the hot dog cart of the future,” he says, and that’s enough to make some people feel uncomfortable.
“It’s different—it hasn’t, to my knowledge, been done before,” he says. “But I think there’re enough people who maybe aren’t vegan or vegetarian who appreciate what I’m trying to do.”
Visit facebook.com/fauxmahahotdogs for more information.