Check Out Season Four of Fast Casual Nation That Highlights Consistent, Quality Food

Fast Casual Nation offers exclusive interviews with experts ranging from top chefs and brand makers to executives and restaurateurs who work in one of the fastest-growing segments of the restaurant industry. The show is available to view in full on Foodable On-Demand.

Now in its fourth season, Fast Casual Nation endeavors to examine “The Next Generation of Food” via the latest industry trends and emerging restaurant concepts. During this season, Paul Barron got the chance to interview some of the masterminds behind restaurants Matt & Marie's, Dog Haus, and Smashburger.

If you think the classic Italian sandwich has overstayed its welcome, think again. Based in Philadelphia, Matt & Marie’s menu is equal parts sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory. Self-declared “Philly’s favorite hoagie,” Matt & Marie’s values consistency, integrity, and fresh and flavorful ingredients. The chain is passionate about making Italian charcuterie accessible and palatable to everyone.

First meeting in college at Wharton, co-founders Marie Capp and Justin Matt Saplosky created and managed a catering business together while still in school. They established the first brick-and-mortar Matt & Marie’s location a few weeks after graduation. Barron met and interviewed Capp at that flagship location in Philly’s historic Logan Square.

“Hospitality is definitely a business,” says Capp. “And it’s got more of a heartbeat than any industry I’ve ever been exposed to. You’re dealing with so many people face-to-face every single day, getting to know their names and stories, and seeing their lives unfold over the years.”

For Capp, the inspiration behind Matt & Marie’s was simple: “This is a charcuterie board in a sandwich for lunch. It’s something you would normally get at a nice Italian restaurant at night.” She adds, laughing, “I say it’s lunch time.”

Check out the episode to learn more about Capp’s background and the ingredients that go into every Matt & Marie’s sandwich.

Hot dogs are traditionally seen as more of an indulgence than a meal. Dog Haus takes a slightly different approach: while still keeping the style and flavor of a traditional hot dog, all of the chain’s hot dogs are crafted by hand and free of antibiotics and hormones. Sausages, burgers, and chicken sandwiches are also on the menu.

The chain was founded in California in 2010 by business partners and friends Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz, and André Vener. The three wanted to create something that was a hybrid of the formal restaurant and fast casual formats: “craft casual.” Today, Dog Haus now boasts a $500 million franchise agreement and is projected to experience exponential growth for years to come.

Barron sat down with Adam Gertler, American chef and television personality—and the official "Würstmacher" for Dog Haus. Gertler directs the production and inspiration behind the chain’s latest sausage creations.

“The concept was to do a hot dog place, but for a grown-up palate,” says Gertler. “It’s super comfort food with a lot of flavor.”

All Dog Haus locations have beer and wine, and select units are also designed as a beer garden with a strong focus on craft beer. Every drink is carefully chosen and, like the unit itself, designed to reflect the location’s surroundings and community at large.

“As we develop more stores, we get a better idea of what we are and what we want to look like,” notes Gertler. “Each store also has a unique feel to where it is. We don’t want to be complete cookie cutter.”

To hear more about the chain’s menu design and signature offerings, make sure to check out the episode!

Burger joints are a dime a dozen in today’s market, but Smashburger has carved a unique place in the industry for itself by keeping the focus on menu development. The chain prioritizes dishes that utilize high quality, consistent, and efficient ingredients.

Barron chatted with Tom Ryan, the chief concept officer for Smashburger. A fast casual pioneer, Ryan co-founded the enterprise in Denver in 2007. Smashburger now maintains over 350 locations worldwide.

According to Ryan, the goal has always been to secure excellent distributors that allow workers to concentrate on doing what they do best: making the perfect smashed burger and offering excellent customer service.

“We seek out high quality vendors to give us best-in-class ingredients that are consistent every time,” says Ryan. “You have to manage quality, safety, and integrity inside the four walls.”

Smashburger does not choose its distributors lightly. The people the chain works with offer more than just ingredients. “Our distributors have a great sense where the velocity is in the marketplace, so we do a local burger in every market,” adds Ryan. “It forces us to have to peruse menus on a local basis, and forces us to have a lot of dialogue with a lot of local operators.”

Watch the episode to learn more about the chain’s favorite ingredients, menu innovations, and current system processes for maintaining exceptional food safety standards and supply chain integrity.

Produced by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


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Fast Casual Executives Share How Their Brands are Adapting to Stay Successful in Today's Market

The fast casual segment looks much different today than it did 10 years ago. The concepts in this sector continue to disrupt the foodservice space, but they have to find new ways to do this.

Fast casual concepts are often the pioneers or the first adapters when it comes to new trends.

On the IOChangeMakers live stream, we sat down with Donna Josephson, SVP and CMO at Corner Bakery Cafe and André Verner, Partner and co-founder of Dog Haus to see how these brands continue to pivot in today's market to stay successful.

According to Foodable Labs, over 30 percent of the U.S. Restaurant industry is using some form of on-demand third-party ordering solution. But to handle the influx of these orders presents a new challenge. So this is influencing established chains to jump on the virtual restaurant bandwagon.

Both of these restaurant brands see potential in ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens due to the recent third-party delivery surge.

"We see that as an opportunity for us. We have a big physical plant right now and we may not always need that," says Josephson. "And instead of shunning it and pushing away third-party delivery, let's get in fast and put our arms around it and bring it in close."

Dog Haus announced earlier this month that the restaurants are starting to utilize ghost kitchens. By prepping some of these delivery orders off-site, it allows in-store kitchens to focus on in-store orders.

"We are committed with our Kitchen United relationship. It's something new for franchisees as well. To get a brick-and-mortar, at least for our size, it's about $600,000 to build a store, then you have to sign a 10-year lease and hire 40 new employees right away. You're committed," says Verner. "On a Kitchen United location, you sign a one-year deal. All the kitchen equipment is there. They do everything, they do all the equipment maintenance. They do everything except for staffing the three people in the kitchen."

So there are are less overhead costs involved in these virtual concepts.

Want to learn more about what these successful brands are doing to compete in today's market? Check out the video above or the full interview is also now exclusively available on Foodable On-Demand here.

What the Cluck! Dog Haus Intros a Chicken Sandwich to its Menu

What the Cluck! Dog Haus Intros a Chicken Sandwich to its Menu

The fast casual chain Dog Haus known for its hot dogs, sausages and burgers has announced that the concept will also now be serving a brand new menu item, the “Bad Mutha Clucka,” a crispy chicken sandwich.

Starting on National Fried Chicken Day on July 6, the new sandwich will be available for purchase at all Dog Haus locations.

Like its other product offerings, the “Bad Mutha Clucka” has no hormones and antibiotics. The 100% all natural cage-free chicken breast is beer-battered and paired with lettuce, pickles, miso ranch– all of which are crafted between a grilled King’s Hawaiian roll. The miso ranch and red chili flakes create a gentle umami taste.

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All Bite, No Bark: Fast Casual Dog Haus to Expand With 300 New Locations

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Recently attracting attention with its $500 million franchise agreement, Dog Haus is expecting huge growth in the next seven years. The hot dog chain has found success in taking an American favorite and building upon the nostalgia it brings. Founders Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz, and André Vener have created a menu with elevated dogs, sausages, and burgers that seem to have caught on at their 21 locations. Each location has a bold, edgy look to it — but with its own style. Just ask chef or Würstmacher, Adam Gertler.

“We don’t want to be completely cookie cutter. We’re right here on this great 3rd street promenade in Long Beach, California so we wanted the look to reflect that. There’s obviously beautiful sun here, so that’s why we have a lot of windows. Let a lot of light in,” he said.

Every Dog Haus location also serves beer and wine, however, this particular location has a Biergarten with 15-20 taps on draft at any particular time. There is also a bar area used to feature all the craft beers the restaurant has chosen to pair with its menu.  

With items like the Sooo Cali, Dog Haus redefines what a hotdog can be. Adding arugula, avocado, tomato, and crispy onions topped with spicy basil aioli, these hot dogs are on another level. Gertler shows us the menu with items like Another night in Bangkok, the Free Bird, and their Freiburger®, which like all their burgers, is hormone and antibiotic free. The menu provides a wide range of options without overwhelming customers.

Rounding out the menu are some other elevated classics including, fries, tater tots, and coleslaw, items that are often combined. Check out how Dog Haus is taking classic comfort foods and transforming them for more grown up palates on this episode of Fast Casual Nation.

Dog Haus Announces Major National Franchise Deal, Plans to Expand with 300 New Locations in the Next 7 Years

The fast casual or as the brand calls itself– “craft” casual concept, Dog Haus is partnering with American Development Partners to expand the brand across the country. With a $500 million investment, the brand and its new partners are planning to open 300 new franchise locations in 12 states over the next seven years.

Dog Haus is a California-based restaurant serving customizable hot dogs, sausages and burgers. The brand currently has 21 stores in Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, and Utah and these new stores  will also be “stand-alone” stores. The upcoming stores will be in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

"Since opening the first Dog Haus in Pasadena, CA six years ago, we’ve been tirelessly committed to working closely with our franchisees to create an unparalleled dining experience for our guests at each and every Dog Haus location," said, André Vener, Dog Haus partner who co-founded the concept with fellow partners Hagop Giragossian and Quasim Riaz in 2010 in a press release. “We couldn’t be more excited to join forces with American Development Partners and continue raising the Dog Haus experience to new heights across the country.”

The partners decided to franchise the concept in 2013.

Their culinary team will be overseeing menu operations for the major expansion. “Our entire culinary and operations team will continue to ensure that the high-quality that has made the brand a "haus" name in Southern California is preserved as it crosses state borders,” said Giragossian.

The menu features all-beef skinless hot dogs and hand-crafted sausages and burgers from “humanely raised cattle” that are served on Hawaiian rolls. Guests can customize their meal with an array of toppings. As for beverages, the brand’s program has a selection of craft beer, along with soft drinks.

Why Did American Development Partners Pick Dog Haus?

“In addition to their vision, leadership and integrity, Dog Haus is an industry leader in food quality and has a proven track record of producing above average sales,” said Caleb McMillen, COO of American Development Partners in press release. “Combined with their exceptional marketing appeal, we’re looking forward to working with many experienced franchisees to help expand the brand into 12 states across the country and filling a void in a restaurant sector that we feel has an incredible upside.”

Prior to this partnership with American Development Partners, the brand partnered with Sony Pictures for the animated film, Sausage Party. The brand also teamed up with Top Chef winner Ilan Hall to create “The Naughty Dog.”

Do you think this restaurant will thrive in unfamiliar markets? Does America need an elevated hot dog concept? Watch the Fast Casual Nation episode on this brand above.