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André Vener, partner at Dog Haus, on the brand's 2020.

How fast-casual Dog Haus found success at the beginning of the pandemic by selling groceries

Partner André Vener explains how leadership worked with franchisees to make a profit

Dog Haus – the biergarten known for making all-beef hot dogs and sausages served on Hawaiian rolls – considers part of its company mission as a “craft-casual” restaurant to bring people together. But how can you do that during the COVID pandemic? It was a challenge for the restaurant, which made an almost immediate pivot to selling groceries and working with franchisees to come up with new solutions.

Partners Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz and André Vener opened the first Dog Haus in 2010 in Pasadena, Calif., and the brand has now grown to 52 locations, with 16 to come. Vener spoke to Nation’s Restaurant News about the brand’s experience during COVID.

NRN: How did Dog Haus initially respond to the pandemic?

Vener: When our dining rooms were forced to close, we did not waste any time launching new offerings. One of our franchisees came to us about creating Haus Market – an adapted grocery-store model at our Dog Haus restaurants that sold a variety of essential foods. We launched it quickly and ended up being one of the first brands to offer essential groceries. In addition to Haus Market, we also launched curbside pickup and other sales-driving initiatives that kept us top-of-mind with our guests.

While each of our new offerings were helpful in giving our guests new ways to dine safely at home, what really moved the needle was the debut of The Absolute Brands – a restaurant group comprised of Dog Haus and eight unique concepts. In March, we began offering three delivery-only brands – Bad Mutha Clucka, Plant B and Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos – at our virtual kitchens and most of our Dog Haus restaurants. Since The Absolute Brands’ launch, we’ve seen a huge spike in delivery sales. One of our restaurants saw a sales increase of over 300% after the implementation of these virtual concepts.

NRN: How has the pandemic impacted your life personally?

Vener: The pandemic has impacted me in several ways. On the negative side, not being able to see all my friends and family, participate in social gatherings, especially at venues, restaurants and other meeting places, and not being able to travel has made my recent experiences a lot less rich than before. However, there are also a lot of positives to the ongoing situation. The most important of them are doubling and tripling down on spending time with my family and neighborhood pod—I love the time I’ve been able to put into home improvements, socializing with my neighbors (at a distance, of course)—but most of all, spending more time with my 9-year old has been priceless.                        

NRN: What does the future look like to you?

Vener: This sounds counterintuitive, but things are so good right now, both personally and professionally, that when this has all passed, I can’t imagine how much better life will become. What I do know is that once the pandemic ends and restrictions on daily life are ended, I plan to have a really great trip that will involve getting on a flight and heading to a large gathering, with specific activities including, but not limited to, enjoying a big party with friends at a bar or two and going to an epic concert.

NRN: What do you think the future holds for the restaurant industry?

Vener: Being able to join together with family and friends at a restaurant to enjoy a great meal is a concept that has been around for hundreds of years – and COVID isn’t going to bring it to a complete halt. However, takeout and delivery are only going to become more of a necessity. Brands will need to continue to adapt and perfect their to-go game if they want to survive. Over the past few months, we’ve seen several big-name brands take the leap into the ghost-kitchen world and I’m certain those numbers will only continue to grow. Not only that, but I imagine more restaurants turning into a virtual kitchen and offering multiple brands under the same roof. This establishes another manner for franchisees

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