Putting Culture First, Funky Sausage Concept Dat Dog Expands
“I really do have every intention of taking this as far as the world will let me,” says Bill DiPaola, president and COO of fast-casual franchise Dat Dog.
With its first two franchisee deals signed, Dat Dog is poised to take its quirky menu and playful culture beyond its home base of New Orleans.
Baton Rouge franchisees David Halpern and Teva Sempel will open three Dat Dog restaurants, and the brand will have a presence in Texas following a 25-unit agreement with B&G Food Enterprises.
Dat Dog, founded in 2011 by New Orleans native and former federal prosecutor Constantine Georges, has four company restaurants where it serves a menu of unconventional sausages, including those made from alligator and crawfish, plus dozens of toppings. Traditional pork and beef options are available as well, plus beer and craft cocktails, and President and COO Bill DiPaola says that versatility means he doesn’t fear what food trends come next.
“There’s not a whole lot of competitive intrusion into the hot dog space,” he says. “It’s gonna come, but how prepared are they to compete with us? We’ve even done breakfast dayparts that we’ll debut soon.”
DiPaola sees franchising as a way for Dat Dog to be viewed as a local restaurant, one where owners have the “touch and relationship with the community.”
“We want boots on the ground, people who are stakeholders in their community,” he said, and culture is crucial. Employees are encouraged to express their personalities and have a hand in coming up with new dog creations. “We look silly, we look carefree, but I plan it that way, there’s a method,” continues DiPaola, noting his theater and artist background has helped give Dat Dog its unique flair.
Dat Dog’s deal with B&G to open 25 restaurants in Houston may initially seem like a departure from that philosophy, as B&G operates more than 100 Yum brand locations in Texas and Louisiana, but DiPaola says B&G is a family company and CEO Greg Hamer Sr. is actively involved.
“We want people who understand the value of community and it hurts when it doesn't go right—they’re quicker to respond to issues,” says DiPaola. “I don’t care how small we are or how big someone else is.”
Dat Dog has been careful about how it formalizes its systems to fit franchising, always conscious not to negatively impact the culture.
“Your culture has to be strong enough to repel people, to repel the people you don’t want, but magnetically attract the people you do want,” says DiPaola.
Dat Dog is looking to further expand in the Gulf South region, focusing on Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.