Better-burger concepts populate much of the fast casual 2.0 space. The same cannot be said for sister cuisine hot dogs, which at best play a supporting role in premium burger restaurants. André Vener, Hagop Giragossian, and Quasim Riaz took note of this disparity, and in 2010 the partners opened the first Dog Haus in Pasadena, California. Within the first six months, the store had become profitable, and growth has been compounding ever since.
By store No. 3, the partners decided to franchise, convinced by the high volume of inquiries from operators outside the state and the pressure from other growing hot-dog concepts. They made a point of working with owners who were on the ground in new territories and already had portfolios of one to six concepts with anywhere from 10 to 100 stores. While many fast casual 2.0 brands opt to keep things in-house with infusions of venture capital driving corporate store growth, Vener points out that Dog Haus has zero loans, zero partners, and no credit-card debt because of its franchise system.
Hot dogs have long been a mainstay of concession stands, and even some chains like Wienerschnitzel have cornered the market in quick service, but Dog Haus’ fare raises the bar to a near gourmet level. Celebrity chef Adam Gertler serves as würstmacher, creating hog dogs and sausages with a variety of meats, including beef, turkey, Polish kielbasa, spicy Italian sausage, and Thai currywurst.
The better-dog experience is cemented by its system-wide craft beer program (ABC licenses are still pending at some locations). Like many fast casual 2.0s, Dog Haus is fighting for later dayparts.
“We do 51 percent lunch [and] 49 percent dinner, so we have made sure we don’t lose that night-time crowd,” Vener says. “There are certain things like pizza that you could have for lunch and dinner, and there are other businesses like sandwiches where they do great for lunchtime, but no one’s going … at nighttime—that just doesn’t make sense.”
Last fall, American Development Partners bought the rights to open more than 300 new stores in 12 states over the next seven years, and before that deal, Dog Haus had already sold 150 units across nine states. The brand is on track to open 40 more stores before the year is out and to double that amount in 2018.
“It’s a niche market that we’re in. I believe we have some great brand awareness that at least the franchisees out there are paying attention to,” Vener says. “We don’t buy ads for selling territories, we don’t buy lists, and we don’t have any sales force that goes out to sell this. It’s all people coming to us. As time goes, it will happen naturally.”