Photo Credit: Dog Haus Worldwide

As restaurants continue to struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, some are nevertheless finding ways to give back to the communities who support them. Dog Haus, the fast-casual chain known for gourmet hot dogs, sausages, burgers and chicken sandwiches, is a poster child for this seemingly miraculous giving, donating $85,000 to No Kid Hungry in August. 

Dog Haus has been an official partner with No Kid Hungry since January 2018. This $85,000 contribution is the second annual check the restaurant has written to the charity, which fights childhood hunger by providing meals for at-risk children. To date, Dog Haus’ donations have allowed No Kid Hungry to serve 1.2 million meals. 

“[This check] is larger than the one we wrote last year and we want to keep growing it,” said Andre Vener, Co-Founder and Partner of Dog Haus. Vener and his partners, Hagop Giragossian and Quasim Riaz, have faced no shortage of difficulties operating dozens of locations across the country amidst the pandemic, but feel strongly about the commitment they made to No Kid Hungry. 

“There’re a lot of things during this time that are challenging for restaurants. We’ve made some hard decisions, but we are going to keep our word to help stop childhood hunger,” Vener said. “For us to not do our part when the kids need us most would be horrible. What it takes to sustain our business is our community supporting us. They are, so we have to do our part in giving back to the community. When we looked at line items for what to cut, not giving to the kids was not an option.”

The money raised for No Kid Hungry comes from Dog Haus’ Chef & Mixologist Collaboration Series, where the restaurant partners with famous chefs and mixologists to create limited-time menu items. $1 from each sale goes directly to No Kid Hungry. Past partners have included Chefs Adam Gertler, Anthony Sasso, Bert Agor Jr., Chris Oh, Eric Greenspan, Ilan Hall and Jessica Bograd, as well as celebrity mixologists Phil Wills, Mia Mastroianni and Lisamarie Joyce.

“We were shocked by turnout and quality of the chefs,” Vener said when discussing how he and his partners launched the Chef & Mixologist Collaboration Series. “These are Top Chef winners, Michelin starred chefs, celebrity chefs and mixologists. For us to work alongside some of these amazing chefs making hot dogs and sausages and burgers is ridiculous.”

Dog Haus and No Kid Hungry have been working together since 2015, with Dog Haus participating in the charity’s flagship Taste of the Nation events. They decided to make it official in 2018 as the brand scaled its operations nationwide and was on the hunt for a national charity partner. 

“It’s the perfect partnership. My partners and I all have young children. We couldn’t think about our kids not knowing where their next meal would be. We’re proud of what they’re doing to be the solution to this problem,” Vener said.

Another factor that’s helped fuel Dog Haus’ charitable contributions is the rise of The Absolute Brands, a group of virtual restaurants created by Vener and his partners. Bad Mutha Clucka, Plant B, Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos and Freiburger each operate out of ghost kitchens across the US and serve up many of Dog Haus’ specialties, some with novel twists. The company launched these brands at the onset of the COVID pandemic and they’ve proven exceptionally helpful as delivery has dominated the restaurant world over the past few months.

“We’d been planning these virtual brands for a while,” Vener said. “They were an ‘in case of emergency break glass’ kind of idea, and this was definitely an emergency.”

Monumental pivots have guided Vener’s career. Originally running the California Philharmonic symphony, he took the leap into the restaurant world when he opened a fine dining jazz club concept in   2006. The 2008 recession led him to rethink where he wanted to be in the restaurant world, ultimately inspiring Dog Haus in 2010. Additionally, in Southern California, where health and wellness is top-of-mind for so many consumers, launching a hot concept was a bold move.

“I grew up in Freiberg, Germany. Sausage is a part of our culture. The way we make a hot dog in Germany is not the way it’s done in the US. We wanted to create a clean hot dog the way we have them in Europe,” Vener said. “Our food is hormone free, antibiotic free, no added nitrates, a clean label… People are looking for good food to put into their body with high-quality ingredients.”

Vener expects Dog Haus to make an even larger donation to No Kid Hungry in 2021.