Dog Haus Rolls Out 3 Virtual Brands to Franchisees
A chicken sandwich from Bad Mutha Clucka, a delivery-only concept launched by the folks behind Dog Haus.
The franchise industry has seen no shortage of savvy innovation and game-changing ideas as the COVID-19 pandemic has rattled the country.
Restaurants with a robust bar program have been hit especially hard. The high-margin profit center quickly became a high-dollar money pit when shelter-in-place orders turned large bars into large empty buildings.
That’s exactly the situation André Verner, a founding partner at Dog Haus, had to deal with. Of the 35 traditional locations, 20 of those are biergartens and social gathering spots. They saw as much as 35 percent of sales flow through the bar. The remaining 15 locations were non-traditional spots in stadiums or concert venues, all shuttered as concerts were canceled and sports seasons were postponed indefinitely.
He said that was the backdrop for the company decision to roll out three virtual, delivery-only restaurants that were already in development.
“We got hit pretty hard. The good news is we did have the virtual restaurants that are doing better than fine and we’d been in the delivery space already at all 35 locations,” said Verner. “I’m just glad we were one of the brands that were ahead of the game there, otherwise I don’t know how a brand would make it.”
The company launched Bad Mutha Clucka, a chicken sandwich concept; Plant B, a plant-based concept, and Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos, which is, as you might imagine, a breakfast concept. Verner said they all come together under the restaurant group Absolute Brands, which was set to have eight brands and launch in 2021, but COVID-19 created a good reason to speed things up.
The original plan was to help the restaurants tap into key delivery favorites while getting around some delivery platform limitations. The first step was to see what fit with the core operations of Dog Haus.
“Basically, we studied and had a lot of help from people to see what are the popular items being ordered in delivery. We went down the top 25 brands. When pizza and Chinese popped up, we skipped over those, they didn’t fit our DNA. But fried chicken, burgers, wings and plant-based foods and breakfast foods—these are things that people are passionate for and we already have ingredients for,” said Verner. “We created these different concepts, basically spinoffs of our current menu or limited time offers that we served in the past year with celebrity chefs. And then we created concepts around them.”
Because the menu was already known, and the only additional ingredient was a burrito wrap, it was a largely painless process for franchisees. In all, about 25 locations now have the virtual kitchens turned on and operating. The company even reused the LTO training materials, though all at once. That’s allowed franchisees to retain employees even with the in-house dining dip.
“At a few locations, people cut down to three people to do delivery only and they’ve actually brought back some people because of the demand on the product,” said Verner.
Marketing is the other key part of Absolute Brands strategy. Verner said when diners were browsing a third-party app they saw two things when they hit Dog Haus: an image of hot dogs and a brand name that reinforced the idea of hot dogs. And even when they searched for a chicken sandwich, the brand wouldn’t come up because restaurant partners are limited to just a few keywords. So even though Dog Haus has a great fried chicken sandwich, it didn’t match the search. With virtual brands tailored to those high-volume delivery items, they could push out the same chicken sandwich under a high-ranking brand and tack on a few premium items, too.
Franchisees and the brand are thankful that this was already in the works.
“Franchisees are looking to us for help. We know we’re not going to be able to fill 100 percent of that bucket, but we can help stop the bleeding,” said Verner. “We had all the photo shoots done ahead of time, had all the video done ahead of time. So, we had all that ready to go.”
He said through the quick work to pivot the brand, the founding spirit was reinvigorated and has since spread throughout the whole company, something that will outlast COVID-19.
“It made us realize that we could move faster—the entrepreneurial spirit came back alive. If something takes nine months to make, why not do it in two and be first to market? The fear of doing it all perfect is not necessary. Just moving faster is something we learned in this,” said Verner. “We’re not going to turn on the light switch like we were before. We’ll be stronger and leaner and meaner. And I think we’ll have the positive energy we have with franchisees.”