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snack break | Dog Haus – a würst story

The “Craft Casual” chain Dog Haus calls themselves the Absolute Würst. Their roots lie in their creativity, quality and community. It’s known, not only for their innovative award winning menu and use of clean ingredients, but also for their never-ending commitment to innovation. In fact, Dog Haus launched The Absolute Brands (a virtual kitchen concept) to create a nimble approach to serving their customers. For a more in-depth discovery into Dog Haus we interviewed their Director of Marketing, CJ Ramirez.

Can you tell us a bit about your background prior to starting your role at Dog Haus and how those experiences influenced your current ideology/methods? 

 I’ve been working in marketing for over 30 years and during that time I’ve had the privilege of working and collaborating with the best minds in creative communication. All of my experiences have taught me that true collaboration is not only key, but the greatest tool we have to draw on as we continue to grow Dog Haus into its second decade.  Our core ideology is to build relationships for the long-term and share the love.

Can you explain a bit about your role in detail… what does a typical week look like for you?

We all wear multiple hats at Dog Haus and like many executives, both at Dog Haus and other companies, my hat rack is pretty full. However, my core function has always been centered around shaping our brand for presentation both internally and externally.
We are so committed to collaboration at Dog Haus that we created a weekly meeting called Markerations (Marketing + Operations) so our teams can work as one.

While I may take a few hours off on Saturday and Sunday, our franchisees and their teams are busy serving up the Würst. By Monday, there is plenty of data and news for our team to digest. Tuesday through Friday is filled with standing planning/check-in meetings with teams and individuals. However, we have our fair share of real time conversation via phone calls, text messages, and Slack. 

Our team works long hours because their motivation is fueled by the Dog Haus ideology and the opportunity to blaze a new trail. We’re constantly asking ourselves and our team (franchisees, employees and vendors) to focus on innovation/improvement. So, my Tuesday through Friday (and to be honest Saturday and Sunday) role is to be available morning, noon & night for innovative thoughts and ideas by all to improve the brand experience. 

Can you explain the brand identity and your typical customer demographic?

Dog Haus isn’t fast food or fast casual: it’s Craft Casual, a category we created that’s catching on across the industry. Our quality ingredients, made to order items and fun welcoming environment targets a different pattern of consumption from fast food. Our menu targets the kid in everyone while simultaneously satisfying adult palates, making our food perfect for all ages and backgrounds.

Are there any unique challenges to marketing a restaurant brand that works on a franchise structure?

Yes, every challenge is unique due to the nuances of its individual nature. I guess things can look the same or similar on the surface or at first glance, but when you drill deeper, the differences – however subtle they may be – emerge. I don’t only serve our three founding partners; I serve the Dog Haus ownership as well as our franchisees—we see them all as owners of our brand, consider them investors in it and carefully consider how each of them vary despite falling into the same category of franchisee. 

I know that you’ve won acclaim for your menu, winning the Menu Trendsetter award from Nation’s Restaurant News.  In addition, so much of your branding is linked directly to your commitment to providing hormone and antibiotic free meats and a number of plant-based options.  All the while, you’ve got an incredible unique menu of options!  Can you tell us a bit about your R+D process and how you leverage that as a part of your marketing efforts?

All credit goes to our founding partners; they like to eat and to discover new food trends. They then elevate the item and the experience. Once the culinary team feels good about an item, it’s tested by the entire corporate office. Everyone has a say. Sometimes they nail it, sometimes we go rounds and rounds. Once the item build is locked in, everyone on the corporate team participates in the naming process. This has provided some crazy name suggestions over the years, but it also leads to a burst of creativity fueled by all of those that participate.

What were some of the brand’s key marketing goals for 2020 in January, and how have some of those changed in response to COVID-19?

Every year is about growth, 2020 has been no different. It all changed in April when we had to throw caution to the wind and go with what we had in development. 

Since April, our focus has been on our customers, community, franchisees and their employees. We focused on how to keep everyone safe and informed during this uncertain time. Luckily for us our franchisees and employees shared our point of view.

Can you explain a bit about The Absolute Brands?  How do you foresee the brand evolving in post COVID-19 times?  

The Absolute Brands is a new restaurant group comprised of Dog Haus and eight unique concepts. So far, we’ve rolled out three of these new brands, Bad Mutha Clucka, a fried chicken brand; Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos; and Plant B, which focuses on vegetarian items. Each of these new delivery-only brands operates from virtual kitchen locations and offers delicious new items that are off-shoots of Dog Haus’ signature menu. The response has been very positive. We have seen week over week sales growth during COVID-19.

By utilizing virtual kitchen spaces, The Absolute Brands can cook and deliver its food outside the four walls of a traditional restaurant setting, servicing today’s hungry and convenience-driven consumer, when and where they want to enjoy a quality meal. We anticipate the desire for convenience and quality meals to continue, therefore we expect to see more brands enter the space.

In response to the impact that mandatory closures have had on restaurants across the nation, several brick-and-mortar Dog Haus locations started serving these three brands, turning their own back-of-house into virtual kitchens.

How is the brand staying connected to its customers/community when in-restaurant dining is not currently possible?

We have always made it our priority to provide our fans/customers with information in their preferred method. We use our website, landing pages, email, SMS, public relations, social influencers, social media, reputation management and even our voicemails when folks dial our individual restaurant locations. Not much has changed for our brand. We’ve always been committed to customer communication and engagement. We like to think of ourselves as a hospitality business.

Dog Haus is committed to the No Kid Hungry campaign and has funded over one million meals through its efforts.  Can you please explain how this charitable effort has influenced your marketing strategy?

Since day one Dog Haus has said sharing is caring. We have always made it a priority to give back in every way we can. We give people a chance to raise money for local causes, provide meals to homeless shelters, and fast forward to 2020, provide meals to first responders in the effort to battle COVID-19. 

No Kid Hungry was a no brainer for us, as everyone on the leadership team is a parent. In partnership with No Kid Hungry, we’ve developed our Chef Collaboration Series & mixologist collaborations, where $1 of the purchase price from each limited-time item sold is donated to No Kid Hungry, helping end childhood hunger in America.

What is your favorite Haus Dog + Craft Beer pairing?

I love The Fonz (spicy Italian sausage, pastrami, mozzarella cheese, served on a grilled King’s Hawaiian roll), with The Love Boat (tots smothered in chili, haus slaw & cheese) on the side – all paired with a cold pilsner from a local craft brewery. 

Anything to add?

Thanks to all our fans, and if you don’t know about us check us out at DogHaus.com or on social media @DogHausDogs.

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