Many college students spend a majority of their free time partying, hanging out with friends or even studying. Commencement speaker Justin Nothem spends his free time selling wieners.
“There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make,” Nothem said. “I don’t go to the bars anymore. I work the stand by myself. I have to buy all the food and keep the books. It’s a lot of hard work.”
Nothem is the owner and founder of Whitewater Wieners, a hot dog stand he opened in downtown Whitewater Jan. 28, 2011.
The stand has made Nothem well known on campus, and although he may be recognized at UW-Whitewater as “the guy who sells hot dogs across from the bars,” there’s much more to Nothem’s story than Whitewater Wieners.
Growing up in West Bend, Nothem learned to take advantage of the free market at a young age.
When he was in third grade, Nothem said he sold Skittles packets out of his locker for 50 cents. His mom would buy him a big bag of mini Skittles packets and he’d go around selling them to kids for snacks.
“A lot of people ask when I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Nothem said. “I always say that it wasn’t really a choice, I was just born with that way of thinking.”
When it came time to pick a college to fit his entrepreneurial spirit, Nothem said it wasn’t a tough decision.
“I knew right away that I wanted to go here, and I knew how good of a business school UW-Whitewater was,” Nothem said. “I took a tour here and knew it was where I was meant to be.”
Over his years at UW-Whitewater, Nothem said he’s had quite a few people inspire him, from his parents and his brother, to a few choice teachers who’ve mentored him and helped him succeed.
Nothem said he counts his two entrepreneurship advisers, Professor William Dougan and Assistant Professor Jeff Vanevenhoven, as two of his biggest inspirations.
“They’re always very insightful,” Nothem said. “They have great common sense. I feel like they always know what to do next or what would be the right option, and they kind of lead me in the right direction.”
Vanevenhoven was quick to compliment Nothem right back.
“His ability to match problems with resources and come up with creative solutions was remarkable,” Vanevenhoven said. “He’s just a smart, stinkin’ guy.”
According to Vanevenhoven, there are only about two handfuls of students he’s taught that he would put in Nothem’s category.
“I expect great things,” Vanevenhoven said. “Justin is exactly one of the reasons why we faculty and we teachers put in all the extra effort beyond what’s required, to watch people like him grow and develop. I take a lot of joy in watching his successes.”
One of the most unlikely sources of Nothem’s success might be his minor: dance.
Nothem said he was first inspired by dance when his parents took him to a river dance when he was young. Ever since, he’s had a passion for dance and even credits it for helping him succeed in the entrepreneurial world.
“I’ve noticed that dance has really brought the creative side out of me,” Nothem said. “I’ve been able to use that in the business world. I give a lot of credit to dance for the competitions I’ve done well in or won. I see things in a way I wouldn’t have before.”
Nothem cites Associate Professor of Theatre & Dance Barbara Grubel as another one of the most influential people in his life during his time at UW-Whitewater.
Grubel has taught Nothem in several courses over the years, and said she’s never had a student quite like him.
The amount of work and enthusiasm Nothem put into his dance minor, always trying to learn something until he knew it from the inside out, was something Grubel said really impressed and delighted her.
When Nothem graduates Saturday, Grubel said she knows the university, and the dance program, will be losing a special student.
“I will never forget Justin, ever,” Grubel said. “What I believe is that all of our students coming through the dance program are a link. I look at them as links to the growth of the program, and Justin is a very important link.”
With all of his successes at UW-Whitewater, Nothem said he knew right when he got the email to apply for commencement speaker, that if selected, it would be the perfect way for him to finish off his college career.
“I was extremely excited when I heard because I just felt like I worked so hard to get to the point where I am right now,” Nothem said. “I’m just completely humbled to be able to speak in front of my classmates, and I feel it’s a tremendous honor to give that commencement speech to them.”
As for the hot dog stand, Nothem said he’s planning to move on to bigger, more exciting things once he graduates, but he’d still like to keep Whitewater Wieners running.
“I want to lease it out to another student with an entrepreneurial mindset,” Nothem said. “I’d like to give someone else the opportunity to learn how to run their own business and help them pay they’re way through college.”