The Untold Story Of Dog Haus

Thirty years ago, if you used the words "hot dog" and "gourmet" in the same sentence, you'd have likely sent a classically trained chef (and others, for that matter) into a conniption fit. But now, stuff that was once considered junk food can be a vehicle for much-needed improvement and creativity, just like cake and consomme. And Dog Haus is a big reason why. The California-based chain of gourmet, all-beef hot dog shops has taken over America with its dogs doused in barbecue sauce and cheese, wrapped in bacon, and set inside King's Hawaiian rolls. And their empire is poised to expand.

Dog Haus isn't just a fancy hot dog stand. They've also opened biergartens, where we can enjoy their creations with literally dozens of specialty beers, and they've been on the forefront of the virtual kitchen movement, launching an entire new line of restaurants in 2020 without breaking ground once. Add that to collaborations with celebrity chefs, master mixologists, and global charities, and it's not hard too see how Dog Haus punches far about its 50-location weight.

Dog Haus was founded in Pasadena, California in 2010

The year was 2010. Barack Obama was president. iPhone was still on its fourth edition, and American Idol was dominating TV ratings. It was also the year that a handful of enterprising individuals realized the world was ready for a crazy menu of gourmet hot dogs served at fast casual prices. The result was Dog Haus, who opened its first location in Pasadena, California in the middle of that year.

The original Dog Haus opened at 105 N Hill Ave. in Pasadena, and the shop is still open to this day. About a year later, Dog Haus branched out to its second location 93 E. Green St. in Old Pasadena. This incarnation of the restaurant, however, brought us Dog Haus's first Biergarten location (or "beer garden," as it's known in the US), occupying a larger, more open space like a traditional German beer hall. They also added dozens of beers and a larger menu, creating a more social and pub-like Dog Haus experience.

Dog Haus beef is a cut above your average hot dog meat

Hot dogs, admittedly, have gotten a rap over the years, as they've gained a reputation as byproduct receptacles for the meat processing industry, spurring the phrase "those who love laws and sausages should never watch either being made." This, however, is not the case, Dog Haus' founders say. The company's website even features a quote from Partner Hagop Giragossian, stating, "Dog Haus has been deeply committed to creating food that not only tasted phenomenal...but allows guests to have peace of mind about its uncompromisable quality."

In non-buzzword English, that means Dog Haus uses 100% genetically tested Black Angus beef from Creekstone Farms in Kansas, and everything on the menu is humanely raised, vegetarian fed, and hormone and antibiotic free, the company's website states. The hot dogs, house-made sausages, and other meats area also completely free of nitrites and nitrates, which are curing agents that can combine with compounds in meat to form carcinogens. Basically, while nobody's passing Dog Haus off as health food, it's not as terrible for you as a lot of hot dogs you find in the store.

They're known for unique hot dogs, but Dog Haus serves other stuff too

Dog Haus's tagline is "The Absolute Wurst," as it made its initial splash with a menu of hot dogs and sausages that weren't commonly available in fast-casual dining. According to Dog Haus's website, the restaurant uses all hormone and antibiotic free beef in all its creations, which run the gamut from corn dogs to the bacon-wrapped Downtowner Dog. The most famous, the Sooo Cali, is topped with arugula, avocado, tomato, crispy onions, and spicy basil aioli.

But the menu isn't just limited to hot dogs and sausages, as you can find the same kind of creative  are on Dog Haus's chicken sandwich and burger menus as well. The menu is so innovative that Dog Haus was honored at the 2020 Menu Masters Awards for being the year's Menu Trendsetter. In reporting the awardNational Restaurant News cited to Sooo Cali dog, the Mensch Burger, and Dog Haus' work with charities as factors for the recognition.

You can hack the Dog Haus menu with vegetarian and health-conscious options

One might think a restaurant where you can top hot dogs with cheese, bacon, and other high-calorie foods wouldn't exactly be a dieter's delight. And, yes, part of the idea of dining at Dog Haus is to enjoy yourself with options like a full line of bacon-wrapped hot dogs. But if you're trying to eat healthy — or even if you're just looking for plant-based food — and your friends or work buddy insist on the joint, you've still got options.

For example, the Bad Mutha Clucka sandwich, a beer-batter fried chicken sandwich with miso ranch, can also be ordered grilled, minus the ranch. You can also get an Impossible burger patty instead of beef on any of the burgers, or order anything off the plant-based menu. The Love Boat Fries, Dog Haus's version of chili fries topped with Haus slaw, can also be ordered minus the fries or with extra chili if you're trying to go keto. And, of course, anything on the menu can be ordered without a bun and subbed with extra veggies.

Several Dog Haus locations are Biergartens

For the unfamiliar, "biergarten" is the German word for a communal place to go out and drink beer, stemming from the Bavarian original that's a staple in any Oktoberfest celebration. And though you won't find dirndl-adorned waitresses and polka bands at Dog Haus Biergarten locations, you will find a minimum of a dozen beer taps with craft selections, multiple HD-TVs, and loads of outdoor drinking space.

The company's second location in Old Town Pasadena, California was a biergarten, and since then the large-format Dog Haus has popped up in franchised locations as far away as Bethesda, Maryland. According to Dog Haus, Biergarten locations focus on pouring local beers, giving each one a distinct experience from others. And though they don't necessarily deliver beer in their takeout orders, some of their locations do have outdoor dining. Visiting the spots in person — safely, of course — and pairing the beer with a hot dog creation could be just the ticket — just, maybe not in Bethesda in the dead of winter.

Dog Haus also boasts crazy cocktails from famous mixologists

In addition to their charity hot dog collaborations, Dog Haus has taken a cue from the owners' bar-running pedigree and developed cocktails with the help of celebrity mixologists. Many are the brainchild of Phil Wills, whom you may remember from TV's Bar Rescue and who, in 2020 brought Dog Haus two special cocktails: the Secret Garden and Foolish Games. The former was a sparkling white wine cocktail with grapefruit, lime juice, and a garnish of rosemary. The latter was a tequila drink with spicy and floral notes.

Other mixologists brought into the fold have included Lisa Marie Joyce, who was also a regular consultant on Bar Rescue, and Mia Mastroianni, one of the founding bartenders of Soho House. Every drink includes a $1 donation to No Kid Hungry, and according to Dog Haus's owners, the program has been a success. 

Doug Haus was founded by experienced bar owners

Dog Haus was initially the dream of three friends: Quasim Riaz, Hagop Giragossian and Andre Vener. All three were no strangers to the bar and restaurant scene in Pasadena. Vener had owned a jazz club and restaurant called Redwhite+Bluezz, and the other two partners — Riaz and Giragossian — owned Kings Row Gastropub. They still own it today.

"I previously ran Power Pyramid with another Dog Haus Partner, Quasim Riaz," Giragossian told Thrive Global. "While working together, we developed a desire to move into the bar scene and set out to open the next Pasadena hot spot."

They quickly realized that running a restaurant and running a bar were very different skill sets, and they leaned on the expertise of their club-owning friend Vener. Between what Giragossian described as their "shared failures," the three of them knew enough to make Dog Haus work. And the result is a chain with over 50 locations and counting.

During the pandemic, Dog Haus sold groceries

During the chaotic days of 2020, Dog Haus found itself in the same position as a lot of businesses and had to find innovative ways to make it through during widespread shutdowns and restaurant restrictions. And as the spring lockdowns began, one Dog Haus franchisee had an unusual solution.

"One of our franchisees came to us about creating Haus Market – an adapted grocery-store model...that sold a variety of essential foods," owner Andre Vener told Nation's Restaurant News. "We launched it quickly and ended up being one of the first brands to offer essential groceries"

On the grocery list, guests could find gourmet hot dogs and sausages, as well as cheese, burger patties, frozen tater tots, and even Dog Haus's trademark King's Hawaiian rolls . Plus, according to Pasadena Magazine, it was also the place to go for 2020's hottest item: toilet paper.

Dog Haus works with celebrity chefs and worldwide charities

Part of why Dog Haus is mentioned in the same conversations with restaurants boasting ten times as many locations is its work with big name chefs and charities. For instance, Dog Haus has partnered with No Kid Hungry to provide over a million meals to children in need. The chief source of those donations? Special menu items created with Michelin-starred and celebrity chefs that usually change up every month.

Among those on the Dog Haus celebrity roster include Ilan Hall, winner of Top Chef Season 2 and the man behind LA's Ramen Hood, who also developed a banh mi for the restaurant. Then there's Executive Chef Anthony Sasso of Michelin Star-winning Casa Mono in New York, who created the Tot Dog, which, while not earning any fine dining points, is an indulgent experience topped with tater tots celery salt, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce. Dog Haus launches the specialty items once per quarter, and proceeds go to provide meals via No Kid Hungry. Purchases in the Chef Collaboration Series can buy "up to 10 meals for kids."

Dog Haus has an in-house Wurstmeister with a TV background

Beyond the celebrity chefs and mixologists Dog Haus works with on its charity projects, the restaurant also has an in-house chef they've cleverly dubbed the Wurstmacher. Adam Gertler is the mind behind some of the craziest creations on the Dog Haus menu, but prior to that he was also a contestant on Season 4 of Food Network Star. He has also served as host of Food Network's Will Work for Food and Kid in a Candy Store.

Gertler has proven himself in places other than a TV studio, though, serving as Executive Chef of The Smoked Joint in Philadelphia, a barbecue restaurant his brother Keith co-owned. Gertler joined on with Dog Haus in 2013, which has been his primary gig ever since. And, as of last year, he has his own Dog Haus franchise in Hollywood, an undertaking the Wurstmacher relishes. As Gertler told QSR Magazine, "I'm getting the rare opportunity to operate my very own Dog Haus while doing what I love – creating innovative new menu items for these kick-ass brands."

Dog Haus began franchising in 2013 and now has over 50 locations

Of course, the Wurstmacher isn't the only franchisee in the Dog Haus family. According to QSR Magazine, by the time the original partners had opened their third location, they were already inundated with franchise interest from outside the state and decided the time was right to expand. They limited their partners to people who were already in the markets, and had between 10 to 100 stores in one of six existing concepts. Basically, the Dog Haus folks wanted people who knew what they were doing, in the places they wanted to do it.

Though Dog Haus has opened 51 locations to date, plans are in the works for literally hundreds more. In fall of 2016, American Development Partners secured the rights to open over 300 Dog Haus locations in 12 states between then and 2023. Prior to that deal, the partners has deals for 150 stores in nine states. And though you can only find them in certain states now, that is likely to change soon.

Their move toward virtual kitchens helped Dog Haus sales increase in 2020

During a year when restaurants were hit harder than ever before, Dog Haus wasn't immune. But while the pandemic's onset saw Dog Haus's sales drop by half, by year's end the chain saw same-store sales increase by 13%, according to Hospitality Tech. Dog Haus credits much of this success to its launch of The Absolute Brands, which introduced entirely new product lines without having to open any new restaurants to the public.

"Launching The Absolute Brands allowed us to capitalize on third-party delivery at the beginning of the pandemic," co-founder Andre Vener said (via Hospitality Tech). "And this is really what moved the needle for us."

Another big factor in Dog Haus's surprising 2020 growth was its expansion of virtual kitchens for the original brand. Concert giant Live Nation has a contract to open ten virtual Dog Haus locations, a And according to Hospitality Tech, smaller, delivery and take out-only locations will be a major focus for the company moving forward.

Dog Haus has a restaurant group of its menu offshoots

Imagine if McDonald's made an entire restaurant out of the Filet-o-Fish sandwich. Or Wendy's had a whole spin-off devoted to the spicy world of chili. That's a little like what Dog Haus did in 2020 when it launched Absolute Brands, a series of restaurants based on some of the chain's most popular menu items. But don't go looking for a Bad Mutha Cluika drive-thru next to your local freeway off ramp: The Absolute Brands concept is all done through virtual kitchens.

Currently, the spinoff company offers seven brands: The original Dog Haus, Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos; Mad Mutha Clucka; Plant B, an all-plant-based concept; Huevos Dias, an egg-centric breakfast spot; Big Belly Burgers; and Jailbird, who specializes in chicken tenders and wings. The delivery-only concepts have proven successful, with one franchisee reporting 300% sales growth thanks to Absolute Brands. And Dog Haus credits the concept as a major factor in its 13% growth in 2020.

Dog Haus used technology to improve employee and guest satisfaction

Though virtual kitchens are certainly a well known way of leveraging technology to adapt to the current restaurant market, Dog Haus has been using apps to improve efficiency in all sorts of ways we never see. For example, Dog Haus franchisees use game platform 1Huddle to train employees, which, according to a release quoted in Fast Casual Magazine, streamlined the process and improved customer satisfaction.

On the operations side, Dog Haus is also using ZippyYum's suite of apps to do everything from manage inventory to track food cost to measure food and equipment temperatures. "Everything we implement on the operations end is to guarantee that we deliver the kick-ass Dog Haus experience we're all about," Dog Haus Partner Hagop Giragossian said via a press release. "2020 is an opportunity for us to upgrade our existing practices while continuously elevating our craft casual concept."

Dog Haus plans hundreds more locations throughout the country

Not that Dog Haus is particularly hard to find if you live in a state where they do business, but if you don't it can be a painful wait between Sooo Cali dogs. Dog Haus is looking to change that sooner rather than later, though. According to Restaurant News,in 2020 the restaurant branched into new locations in Cheyenne, Wyoming as well as Austin and Houston. And in 2021, 15 new locations are set to open in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Texas, and West Virginia.

Of course, in the casual restaurant world planned expansion and actual expansion are horses of entirely different colors. So while a 2017 article from QSR Magazine touted Dog Haus' deals for up to 350 new locations, and said the brand was "on track to open 40 more stores before the year is out," that meteoric growth has not quite materialized. Still, the partners are optimistic. "We have managed to thrive throughout this exceedingly difficult time, " Partner Quasim Riaz told Restaurant News. "With so many new development concepts in the works, the future is looking very bright for Dog Haus."