When you hear the word "Omaha," you might think of the steak company. And you wouldn't be wrong to do so—as the leading producer of red meat in the US, Nebraska's informally known as "The Beef State," and modern Omaha itself was built on the success of its meatpacking plants.
It's safe to say that this is a city known for meat.
Despite that, Omaha native Mick Ridgway is finding success in the vegetable realm with his plant-based hot dog stand Fauxmaha Hot Dogs.
Made from a combination of tofu and seitan, Ridgway's dogs easily mimic the look of meat-based tubesteaks.
"When mixed together, [the tofu and seitan] are like a dough," he explains. That dough is then wrapped in foil, shaped into cylinders, and steamed.
Fauxmaha's dogs currently appear in three forms: the BBQ dog, with coleslaw, smoky coconut bacon, and barbecue sauce from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's vegan comfort food spot Modern Love; the bahn mi, with pickled carrots and radish, sriracha-mayo sauce, fresh mint, and cilantro; and the original, with a choice of ketchup, mustard, dill relish, raw onions, jalapeños, sauerkraut, or sriracha. (If you want all the toppings, just say "the Ridgeway.")
Without any prior food experience or background in business, Ridgway launched Fauxmaha last September.
When developing his business model, however, he considered cooking non-vegan hot dogs in order to operate. "I thought I would have to sell meat in order to get customers," he says.
The Modern Love community encouraged him to stick with vegan products, however, and it paid off: On his first day, he sold more than 70 hot dogs.
For now, Fauxmaha is an entirely mobile operation, setting up shop outside local businesses on different days of the week, including Modern Love, breakfast restaurant Over Easy, and even a pet grooming parlor. On weekends, he often fires up the grill outside bars such as The Sydney and DIY music venue Milk Run.
"People hear about Fauxmaha strictly through word-of-mouth and social media," explains Ridgway, who updates his location each week on Fauxmaha's Facebook page. "I definitely have a lot connections through the music scene. My friends are extremely supportive."
It's not a coincidence that his customers are closely tied to music, either. When he isn't selling hot dogs, Ridgway plays drums for three local acts: the Ridgways, Lord Green, and Relentless Approach.
"When I stopped eating meat when I was 16, I was listening to punk rock records [by bands] like Propagandhi," he adds. Five years later, he converted to a strictly animal-free diet. To this day, you'll hear the Misfits, the Ramones, or similar classic punk bands blasting as Ridgway cooks your order.
The concept for Fauxmaha was inspired by a seasonal chili dog special offered at Modern Love, which Moskowitz (who also happens to be the voice behind Post Punk Kitchen) opened in August of 2014.
Moskowitz and Ridgway soon brainstormed a new recipe specifically for Fauxmaha. "We fine-tuned the recipe together to make it my own," he explains.
Every Wednesday night, Ridgway cooks through his inventory until the wee hours of Thursday morning, often with a help of a friend or two. He also serves different kinds of vegan treats, such as chocolate chip cookies and scones, baked by his friend Kaitlan McDermott.
Expectedly, Fauxmaha attracts the vegan community, but some customers approach the stand without knowing the hot dogs are vegan. Once they taste a dog, Ridgway says, they're beyond satisfied.
"I want to make my fellow vegans happy and [introduce] something new to people that wouldn't otherwise try vegan food," he stresses. "I get a lot of people that are apprehensive, and they end up liking the dogs."
As for the future for Fauxmaha? "I have no idea," Ridgway laughs. "It could lead to a restaurant, a food truck, or nothing. I could be doing this when I'm 50, but I'm excited."