When the men behind Dog Haus recall the best of memories of their childhoods, they think of hot dogs. That’s true for André Vener, who grew up in Freiburg, Germany (“There were hot dog stands everywhere. You’d go to church and there were literally 12 hot dog stands”), and his partners who were raised Stateside. From birthday parties to playdates at a friend’s house, “Some of the best times in life have included a hot dog–the State Fair, the 4th of July, summer BBQs,” says co-owner Quasim Riaz. “For every great memory, the hot dog was there!”
So it’s logical that in 2010 when Vener decided to open a restaurant, he turned his attention to the hot dog. A conversation with friends Riaz and Hagop Giragossian showed that he wasn’t the only restaurateur who believed that this humble food was ready for a gourmet makeover. Riaz and Giragossian were college friends who had previously owned coffee truck Boar’s Java. Seventeen years ago, when Vener was president/CEO of the Pasadena Philharmonic, he hired them as the gourmet beverage truck. He’d liked doing business with them then and when he heard that they had just signed a lease to open up a hot dog restaurant, he was compelled to do business with them again–but as partners. “We holed up at my house one night, and over five bottles of wine came up with the name Dog Haus, and a clear vision of the concept,” says Vener. Three months later, the first location opened in Pasadena. And today there are two other Dog Hauses in the area.
“The basic idea was to create a place to enjoy your favorite foods from childhood with your new grown-up palate,” says Vener, who heads marketing and finance. This was not going to be the hot dog of street vendors and kiddie parties–no Oscar Mayer at Dog Haus. Instead, they focused on high-quality ingredients, including sausages made for them by The Next Food Network Star Adam Gertler, and a low price point, with nothing costing over $7.
The response proved that they were right, people did want hot dogs to get the gourmet treatment. Food & Wine magazine called it one of “America’s Best Hot Dogs” and the throngs of customers seemed to agree. Four years after opening, they have decided to expand. By summer, there will be 11 franchises in California, Denver, and Utah. There are also more than 52 planned locations. “We have big goals, but our number one priority is maintaining the integrity of the vision we have created,” says Riaz, who heads operations. To that end, they have brought in Michael Brown, who has headed kitchens for Google and Nike, as culinary director. “I work closely with [him] on efficiencies, test different items, and establish systems to protect our consistency and provide quality control,” explains Giragossian, who oversees franchise development and developed many of the recipes for Dog Haus.
While customers definitely seem to enjoy the fancied-up favorite, is the food still fun for the Dog Haus partners now that it’s their business? A big “yes” say all three, who are intent on spreading their passion for hot dogs. “If we could open a Dog Haus on Pluto we would,” says Riaz.