Pasadena’s Food Franchise Rock Stars

Published : Monday, November 18, 2019 | 7:53 PM

[Updated] Dog Haus just celebrated its ninth birthday, growing by barks and bounds and posing a forceful reminder that two other hot commodities of casual dining, Blaze Pizza and Wetzel’s Pretzels, are headquartered in Pasadena too.

“In each instance, I think what we are seeing from Pasadena franchisers are operations that concentrate on delivering an exceptional product,” said Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President Paul Little. “It’s not just about how fast the customer gets their food, but the quality of the ingredients, how good it tastes and how enjoyable the environment is that it is served in.”

Dog Haus opened its first store in Pasadena back in the autumn of 2010 and to call its rise meteoric would require no peer review from Caltech professor for verification.

Dog Haus sells its own “Haus sausages,” confections of Würstmacher Adam Gertler.

The ingredients push the right buttons for the California market, offering up a set of adjectives that change the common conception of sausage-making as a process best-kept secret: made with hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and are free of all added nitrates and nitrites, containing only the naturally occurring ones found in sea salt and celery powder.

“At Dog Haus, not only have we always loved a good dog, we’ve taken that love to a new level,” trumpets the company’s website, “and we share that level’s fun and enjoyment with hot dog lovers of all ages.”

Founders Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz and André Vener, might take issue with our categorization of the eatery as casual dining because, to them, it’s “Craft Casual” a dog species of their own creation, which the numbers suggest, has found its audience.

“Our quality ingredients,” says the website, “made to order items and fun welcoming environment target a different pattern of consumption from fast food. At Dog Haus, people linger to enjoy the experience of dining, relishing the laid-back atmosphere, which makes us a breakout brand rapidly expanding across the U.S.”

So that’s the idea.

A year after opening its first location in Pasadena, Dog Haus opened a Biergarten in Old Pasadena. By 2013, things were so robust the decision was made to begin franchising Dog Haus outlets.

The first franchise opened in Canoga Park in June of 2014, by May 2015, there were 10 franchises sold, one of them outside of California. By July of 2015, Dog Haus had licensed its 100th, yes, 100th franchise in Las Vegas.

Headquartered today at 35 Hugus Alley, Wetzel’s Pretzels was not born in Pasadena, rather in Redondo Beach’s South Bay Galleria, way back in 1994.

The pretzels proffered by Bill Phelps and Rick Wetzel were soft, hand-rolled, baked fresh, in house, and handed hot from the oven over the counter.

With the pretzel game well in hand, the bakery began adding new menu items such as Wetzel dogs, which debuted in 1996. Dog bites (pigs in a blanket), Pizza Bits, and Cheesy Dog Bites would follow in the years to come.

Ever-expanding, in 1998 the “Pretzel Imperio” planted its flag in Puerto Rico and, eventually, that single-outlet enterprise grew to exceed 340 bakeries across the U.S. and beyond, including choice locations at Disneyland Resort, Dodgers Stadium, and Walt Disney World resort.

“A behemoth!” says the company website. “A colossal pretzel-making machine!”

Apparently not satisfied with one behemoth, founder Rick Wetzel joined Elise Wetzel in 2011 to form our third example of Pasadena’s franchise prowess, Blaze Pizza.

This enterprise, headquartered at 35 North Lake Avenue, Suite 710, counts basketball superstar LeBron James as one of its investors.

Bloomberg News referred to Blaze Pizza as the “next Chipotle,” after the Mexican eatery’s made-to-order approach.

A 2017 article in “Forbes” magazine highlighted the franchise’s progress at that point saying, “The idea of build-your-own pizza ready in three minutes clicked with pizza-loving Americans and franchises popped up the following year.”

The “Seinfeld” character Kramer, it seems, was simply ahead of his time with the idea of a chain of places where people could “make their own pizzas.”

Blaze took Kramer’s idea one step further by removing the customer from the kitchen and leaving the decision on ingredients to them, but no more.

Forbes noted that, “Going from two to 200 franchises in four years is the fastest start in the history of the U.S. foodservice business.”

As for James, he’s no silent partner. Often promoting Blaze on social media where he has some 90 million followers, he starred in viral YouTube video of him working behind the counter as a Blaze team member.

He is also a Blaze franchisee in his own right.

With a “team” like that, it’s no wonder Blaze has 300 restaurants throughout the country.

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