Woofbowl dog food truck is Milwaukee native, BIPOC and veteran-owned

2022-12-29 10:30:58 By : Ms. Grace Gan

French bulldogs Latto and Dino are the taste-testers for a popular food truck that has traveled the nation. And it makes perfect sense, seeing as their owners' Brooklyn-based business is catered to dogs.

"We like to say they're the real CEOs," joked Milwaukee native Ron Holloway, who owns Woofbowl with his wife, Solo, a Cambodian refugee.

The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and veteran-owned business serves up food truck-inspired eats, like burgers and doughnuts. But these are "nutrient-dense," Ron said, and for four-legged friends. And in true Brew City fashion, the truck even offers a doggy beer.

After serving in the Navy and being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Ron said his dogs became an emotional support and "outlet" for him.

"I joke with people, I say I have a little covenant with my dogs," Ron said. "They keep me alive and we keep them alive. And the best way to do that is through health and wellness."

As a "crazy dog mom," — Ron's words, not ours — Solo decided to start making their "kids" homemade food using whole foods and ingredients. Latto is now 11 years old and Dino is 10.

Solo, a former electrical and biochemical engineer, developed recipes through trial and error. Latto, for example, is picky when it comes to fruits and vegetables; they have to be super fresh, she said. And while Latto isn't a fan of bananas, he loves banana chips.

"There's a lot of science in cooking," Solo said. "The way the ingredients go together, what is going to boost the nutritional value the most. So I used that in thinking about how to put things together."

And that's how Woofbowl's menu was developed too.

"I knew what ingredients I wanted and what I wanted it to look like," Solo said. "It was just basically trying things, seeing if it would work. Go back to the drawing table. It's just basically experimenting."

In addition to Woofbrew Lite Doggy Beer, burgers and ice cream doughnuts, Woofbowl offers nuggets, sweet potato fries and banana chips.

Solo said organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised ingredients are used "as much as possible." Woofbowl's website says its foods are also free from GMOs and anything artificial.

"Just like with humans, the better we eat, the more we thrive," Solo said. "That's what we're trying to do for dogs."

Patrons can order a "Woofbowl," which Ron described as a combo similar to a Happy Meal, or à la carte. Depending on where the truck is setting up shop, prices typically range from approximately $3 to $20.

The truck also frequently offers holiday or seasonal specials. Around Cinco de Mayo, the truck sells tacos; for Valentine's Day, macaroons; and pizza for back-to-school.

Ron works the front window and drives the truck. Solo manages the kitchen and does the business' marketing, which included designing Woofbowl's Latto-inspired logo. Both generate new ideas for their operation.

"I think we just make an awesome team — I really do. An unbeatable team," Ron said.

While they said they can see why this wouldn't be for every married couple, it works for them. The two — who split their time between Brooklyn and Brew City — have been together since 2005.

"I would never do this with anybody else or trust anybody else to do it with," Solo said. "We have grown so much."

In 2017, while Ron was working on his MBA at the University of Maryland Global Campus and researching potential capstone project ideas, he said he noticed how the pet industry was "exploding" and that pet parents were looking for more nutritional options for their fur babies.

"We wanted to kind of switch it up and we knew we wanted to do something in the pet industry," Ron said.

That something? A food truck for dogs.

"Usually when we both agree on something or we both think something is a good idea, it turns out to be magic," Ron said.

Woofbowl launched its first "pup-up" event in 2019 in D.C. The truck initially traveled around there, Maryland and Virginia. Since then, it's traveled to New York City and the Los Angeles/Long Beach areas. Woofbowl made its Milwaukee debut this past summer and fall.

The couple takes the food truck to about 15 to 20 events a month, from "Bark Mitzvahs," wedding proposals and fundraisers to collaborations with small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

While in Milwaukee, the food truck stopped by Maranta Plant Shop, Dandy, Boone & Crockett, Enlightened Brewing Company, Black Husky Brewing, the lakefront and more.

"To be able to bring it home to Milwaukee was very, very, very, very special," Ron said.

Related:Historic Commission approves former Riverwest tavern conversion to food truck park

Ron grew up with his mother, who lived on Milwaukee's northwest side, and spent a lot of time at his grandmother's in the 53206 ZIP Code. He attended Milwaukee Lutheran High School, where he was a basketball star.

Following Sept. 11, 2001, Ron felt moved to join the Navy. His father served in the Marines and his mother always had "patriotic regalia" around the house, he said.

"Seeing 9/11, seeing people jump from those buildings and seeing those planes hit the tower, even now it's imbedded — it's burnt in my memory," Ron said. "I just wanted to do something. I wanted to serve my country. I wanted to do something bigger than me."

Ron served from 2001 to 2010, and was a high-risk survival instructor in Operation Shock and Awe, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, he said.

After his military career, he would go on to earn his bachelor's degree, MBA, work in finance and author multiple books.

When Solo was about two weeks old, she and her family, Cambodian refugees, arrived to the United States.

"They always wanted me to become an engineer, putting me through school and special programs when I was growing up in math and science," said Solo, who grew up in Virginia.

She worked as an engineer for over a decade before Woofbowl.

"We always felt like if we really believe in (Woofbowl), we gotta put our full faith into it," Solo said. "Being part-time was not going to align with what we were going to do. We were all in."

"It just felt right," Ron said. "It always felt right. Something in our guts felt good about this. So far, so good."

The two now dream of making Woofbowl a household name together.

While the food truck is currently on the East Coast (its upcoming stops can be found here), the owners plan to bring it back to the Milwaukee area in the springtime.

For more on Woofbowl, visit mywoofbowl.com. You can also follow the food truck on Instagram, instagram.com/woofbowl, and Facebook, facebook.com/woofbowl.