ENTREPRENEUR / FRANCHISOR — photo by Marc Royce
Quasim Riaz watched as tacos, pizza and burgers got gourmet makeovers, waiting for his guilty pleasure of choice to go upscale. But it never happened. “There are really no good places for hot dogs,” Riaz says. “I think Costco has a pretty good dog. But I was always asking, Where can you go for a quality hot dog?”
In an epic wine-drinking session, Riaz and Hagop Giragossian, his partner in a powder coating and metal fabrication shop, along with concert producer André Vener, came up with the idea of a restaurant that would provide the highest quality hot dogs, sausages and burgers. They opened Dog Haus in 2010 in Pasadena, Calif.
The custom-made, 100 percent beef frankfurters are served on sweet Hawaiian rolls with gourmet toppings such as arugula, basil aioli, caramelized onions and cotija cheese; there are also mashups like a Thai red currywurst and pastrami sausage. And it’s not just the dogs that are catching on: Dog Haus’ burger was recently voted the best in Pasadena by the city’s chamber of commerce.
So far, the concept has three corporate-owned locations and has sold 52 territories, with plans to evangelize the awesomeness of hot dogs across the U.S. We caught up with the Dog Haus top dogs to learn more. —Jason Daley
HOW HAVE YOU CONVINCED FOODIES TO GIVE HOT DOGS A CHANCE?
Giragossian: It’s true; nobody cares too much about hot dogs. They think they’re scrap meat. But we saw a void in the market. We use a proprietary blend in our dogs, and they’re really high quality. And, particularly with our sausages, we’re doing really cool things and using all-natural casings, which isn’t that common. Then we carefully choose items to put on top to complement what we’re doing on the inside. We’re really changing people’s ideas about what a hot dog can be.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO FRANCHISE?
Giragossian: We’re kind of foodies and wanted to be on the gourmet side, making most items in-house, like french fries, sauces, cooking things to order, sourcing from small purveyors. To us, franchising was synonymous with lower quality or subpar food. We looked down on the idea, like we’d be selling out. But the food community has changed, and we noticed lots of chefs going from white-tablecloth restaurants to fast-casual, where they can serve 1,000 or 2,000 customers per day. We looked into it more closely and found we could be as meticulous and have as much quality control as we want with our franchise.
Riaz: At our first restaurant the request for franchising was tremendous. We didn’t even advertise anywhere; we just offered our franchises to our customers. We set out two sheets of paper and got all our leads. Everyone we chose as a franchisee is a fan of the restaurant who just wanted to take part.
WHAT’S YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC?
Vener: We’re not a grab-and-go kind of place. We never set out to do that. We really wanted to have a community-based restaurant. We don’t want customers to come in, eat and leave as fast as possible. We have nice furniture and a relaxed staff, and we want people to come hang out. Other brands are dependent on speed and throughput. Part of our success is that we hit all segments. You can come here for lunch or dinner. You can have a quick bite or stay and experience the atmosphere. You can come here on a date or have a school dine-out night. We’re here to serve the community.
WHAT’S YOUR GROWTH STRATEGY?
Vener: Follow Chipotle! Wherever they go, we should open. (I’m just half-kidding.) We didn’t intend to franchise, so our first three locations are in places they shouldn’t be, and they’re working out really well. So we’re really excited to see our franchisees put our brand in better areas and in more visible parts of town. Some of our early franchisees have even found stand-alone sites, which we never expected. We really just hope to continually grow and improve and create items that customers love.