After graduation, seniors Jesse Konig, Jack Zimmermann and Ben Johnson are taking their dogs to D.C. — their hotdogs. The grads are launching a food truck to sell their innovative Swizzler.
They’ve spent two years developing and testing the Swizzler. A spiral-cut hotdog made from organic, grass-fed meat. The spiral cut increases the surface area of the frank by 350 percent, forming grooves to better absorb marinade and hold the special international sauces the Swizzler team is continuously developing, such as “Moncloa sauzz,” named for a Madrid metro station that Zimmermann and Konig frequented during their study abroad in Spain. Other flavors tested include the Bacon Tropicali Swizz with Sassy Sauzz and a Swizz topped with spinach, blue cheese and a balsamic reduction.
It might seem surprising that a trip to Spain inspired the creation of a global hotdog rather than a new kind of paella or Spanish tortilla. But serving the flavors of Madrid on the familiar, yet improved, frankfurter offers something new to those who are looking for international flair at a reasonable price.
Once Konig, an English major, and Zimmermann, a Spanish major, came up with the vision for the hotdog, Konig introduced Zimmermann to Johnson, a business major, to round out the Swizzler team.
“When Jesse and Jack first approached me with the idea of Swizzler, I couldn’t help but say yes. The spiral cut shape was something I had never thought of before, and right away I saw the potential for us to revolutionize the way people currently think about hotdogs,” says Johnson.
Johnson, of McLean, Va., serves as the menu director and marketing officer. Konig, of Freehold, N.J., and Zimmermann, of Greenwich, Conn., handle the machinery and branding.
Swizzler’s motto, “Adventure, Innovation, Responsibility” makes it clear that this is no ordinary frank.
“Aside from the opportunity to work with my friends as I move out into the real world, joining the Swizzler team has allowed me to pursue my passion in both food and nutrition,” says Johnson. “The majority of my efforts have been towards developing new Swizzler creations such as The Acropolis, a combination of olives, Roma tomatoes and a homemade tzatziki sauce, and The Capitol.
“We want eating a Swizzler to be an adventure — friendly and foreign,” says Zimmermann. “We plan to bring tastes from around the world to local communities in D.C.”
Inspired by a class in food, politics and policy, Swizzler is also committed to giving back to the communities where they will sell their Swizzlers. “Provost Kersh’s class introduced us to the H.O.P.E. food truck in downtown Winston-Salem, which delivers meals to children in neighborhoods with the highest food insecurity,” says Zimmermann. “We want to make this kind of commitment in the Washington area as well.”
As part of the planning process, Swizzler has held proof of concept events, conducted independent studies, secured seed venture grants through Wake Forest’s Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship and connected with alumni in D.C. for brainstorming sessions.
“Coming up with the idea and spending so much time talking about it and planning the business has really cemented the friendships among the Swizzler team, but the resources and support from Wake Forest has helped us deal with the real challenges of a start-up and how to take time to think things through.” Konig says.
Each Swizzler team member brings different interests to the table: Konig brings his writing skills and a passion for entrepreneurship; Zimmermann, his interest in languages, cultures and travel; Johnson, a business background and love of good food. The team agrees that having people from different fields of study is critical. “When you come to a problem, you need different thinkers with different personalities and strengths to solve it,” Zimmermann says.
But though there are differences, there is one thing Konig says they all agree on.
“We dare to ask the question, ‘Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?’ We think the hotdog has a little life in it yet.”