By Frier McCollister
Ten years ago, three friends—all colleagues on the local dining scene—agreed to collaborate on a new restaurant concept for Pasadena.
The fallout from the 2008 market downturn and recession had each of them thinking of new angles. Gourmet quality sausage sandwiches and “elevated hot dogs” with a selective rail of draft beer on offer, all served informally? This was the simple formula for Dog Haus, now a ubiquitous and popularly recognized national franchise chain.
At the time, partners Quasim Riaz and Hagop Giragossian had opened King’s Row gastropub on Colorado and their old friend Andre Vener had the wine bar Red, White, and Blues around the corner on Green Street. The three met in the mid-1990s, when Vener was CEO of the California Philharmonic Orchestra at the LA Arboretum. He needed a simple food and beverage option for his concertgoers, and Riaz and Giragossian were operating a food truck and the three bonded.
After they moved into their respective brick-and-mortar ventures in Old Town, the recession suggested an entrepreneurial pivot. Initially, Vener pitched the launch of a new food truck, but his prospective partners talked him down and soon enough Dog Haus was unleashed.
Vener, the spokesman for the successful trio—and whose family claims five generations in Pasadena, including his wife, Mandi, and daughter Ava, 9—is ebullient over the chain’s stunning 10-year run, all of which started at the small corner shop on Hill Avenue and Union Street in October 2010. As Vener effused, “Time really does fly when you’re having fun.”
After its second location opened in Pasadena, the biergarten on Green Street in Old Town, the franchise model was developed, and soon multiple locations began appearing in 2013. As the first independent dining concession at the Rose Bowl, Dog Haus attracted the attention of concert promoter Live Nation and a deal was struck to provide concession service to concert venues nationwide.
When Pasadena’s ghost kitchen operation—Kitchen United Mix—opened two years ago, the partners devised a series of “virtual brands” that operated for takeout and delivery from the single location on Green Street. As Kitchen United expanded its national footprint to Chicago, Phoenix and Austin, Dog Haus and its additional brands followed.
At the advent of the pandemic in March, these brands—Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos, Bad Mutha Clucka, Plant B, Freiburger and Huevos Dias—were packaged into a new entity called Absolute Brands. The package of brands was then made available to all Dog Haus franchisees, assisted by a sophisticated integrated software “tech stack” system for managing orders and sales.
The move allowed their franchise partners a powerful new pandemic pivot that proved quite effective. As Vener noted, “We went from 100% down to 35% sales in March, back to 100% by June and then July, August, September we were doing 10% to 15% better than the previous year, systemwide.”
Now with more than 50 branded operations including restaurants, virtual brands at multiple ghost kitchen sites and live venues, the Dog Haus team has not only created an empire but one that is effectively thriving in the otherwise bleak economic landscape of the pandemic.
“We started this in Pasadena,” Vener said. “Most of our staff is from Pasadena. Our families are from Pasadena. Our kids go to school in Pasadena. So this is our community. We opened our first two stores here, and they’re both still anchors to the community. We’re just thankful to all the customers who became fans (and made) our dreams come true, 10 years later.”
If you are one of those Dog Haus fans, that gratitude is reflected in “10 Days of Deals,” offering a variety of in-store deals from October 21 to October 30:
Oct. 21 – Free kids’ meal with the purchase of a Haus item
Oct. 22 – Free cheese tots or fries with the purchase of a Haus item
Oct. 23 – Free slice sausage with the purchase of a draft beer
Oct. 24 – Free Love Boat with the purchase of a Haus item
Oct. 25 – Free 6-ounce Haus chili with the purchase of Haus item
Oct. 26 – Free tots or regular fries with the purchase of a Haus chicken item
Oct. 27 – Free Haus burger with the purchase of a Haus burger
Oct. 28 – Free kids’ meal with the purchase of a Haus item
Oct. 29 – Free cheese tots or fries with the purchase of Haus item
Oct. 30 – Free sliced sausage with the purchase of a draft beer
105 N. Hill Avenue, Suite 104, Pasadena
Dog Haus Biergarten
93 E. Green Street, Pasadena