Dream email sparked Dog Haus deal
“One day I said I just want to own a bar and wear flip-flops,” says Andre Vener, top right, a former orchestra executive and co-founder of Dog Haus Biergarten, shown above, with Quasim Riaz, left, and Hagop Giragossian.
A massive development deal for Dog Haus started with a simple email on the franchise’s website— you know, that generic contact form that rarely coughs up a promising lead.
But this one was from long-time operator Shawn Eby, who was visiting his daughter in California when they went to a Dog Haus Biergarten, a hot dog, sausage and burger restaurant they both loved. Eby was in town for an appointment with American Development Partners, a nationwide real estate developer and contractor, to discuss adding stores of another restaurant brand he operates. But Eby ended up convincing American Development to look at Dog Haus instead.
The result is a massive contract to build 300 Dog Haus locations in 12 states for $500 million over the next seven years. Although usually huge development deals never actually get completed, especially when an emerging brand with just 21 units is the franchisor, this deal just may be the exception, if Dog Haus co-founder Andre Vener’s math holds up.
Vener said he and his two partners at first were incredulous, too, as the various groups came together to do the deal: eight separate franchise groups including Eby’s; American Development Partners as general contractor with the ability to build in all 50 states; and a family office that Vener would not name.
“These franchisees own between 15 and 300 units each already, with one to three brands each already,” Vener says. “So these guys are people who know what they’re doing.”
At the suggestion that these massive deals rarely get done, Vener says, “We agree with that in general. But if you divide it by eight groups, over seven years—in the first year of this deal they have to open 24 stores; that’s three stores each. That’s nothing” for experienced operators and a family office with billions in assets.
Vener holds an executive MBA degree, and formerly ran the California Philharmonic in Pasadena before getting into the restaurant business with two partners. “I wore a suit and dealt with the board of directors and unions and government, and one day I said I just want to own a bar and wear flip-flops,” he says.
With two partners, Quasim Riaz and Hagop Giragossian, they started franchising Dog Haus in 2013, reluctantly at first, building upon a menu featuring all-beef skinless hot dogs, hand-crafted sausages and premium Haus burgers served on grilled Hawaiian rolls. “We thought franchising was such a bad, taboo word, and the quality won’t be there, the culture won’t be there, but we realized that we can work around that if we just work hard.”
With this deal in hand, the trio will work even harder. “Everybody gets this one chance. How are we going to maximize this, and we can’t fall behind on this,” he said.
“This is the real thing. We’re stepping up our game.”
What they won’t do is spend their money in advance. “We have not taken one draw since this big wire came in,” Vener says. “To have debt is smart sometimes, nothing wrong with debt. However, since we’re new at this we’re running it with zero debt, zero loans, zero credit cards, zero anything. When our audits are done, we are just three guys putting it back into the company,” he says.
Asked how he pronounces his last name, this hot dog king laughs and says it’s ‘VEN-ner.’ Too bad it doesn’t rhyme with wiener, I reply. “I said when we opened our 100th store I’ll change it to Viener,” he shoots back, and with all the stores in the pipeline that likely won’t take long.