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Hagop Giragossian: “Challenge workers more”

Challenge workers more: Employees are looking to be challenged in jobs…not just treated like robots. Create environments were healthy competition motivates workers to perform. I had the pleasure of interviewing Hagop Giragossian of Dog Haus. As befits the leader of our culinary team, Hagop avidly explores Southern California’s vibrant food scene and cooks up legendary meals […]

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Challenge workers more: Employees are looking to be challenged in jobs…not just treated like robots. Create environments were healthy competition motivates workers to perform.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Hagop Giragossian of Dog Haus. As befits the leader of our culinary team, Hagop avidly explores Southern California’s vibrant food scene and cooks up legendary meals at home. Hagop’s successful business endeavors include founding Kings Row Gastropub and Neo Meze with Quasim. Additionally, Hagop partners with Quasim and André in Pyramid Powder. Hagop and Quasim are former owners of Boar’s Java, a coffee truck with a loyal following in Los Angeles County. Hagop has a degree in Psychology from California State University, Long Beach. In addition to his culinary exploits, Hagop is an avid basketball fan who roots for his hometown team, the Lakers.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I previously ran Powder Pyramid with another Dog Haus partner, Quasim Riaz. While working together, we developed a desire to move into the bar scene and set out to open the next Pasadena hot spot. As we moved into the hospitality industry, we quickly realized running a bar is very different from running a restaurant. Along the way, we met André Vener, and our shared failures led the three of us to the creation of the Dog Haus brand. Ten years later, we’ve got almost 40 locations opened across the country with many more on the way!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

At Dog Haus, I’ve seen several of our employees discover and develop a passion for a completely unintended career path — starting out in our kitchens and working their way up to the corporate office. It feels great to have established a company compiled of different, unique personalities that all bring something to the table.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Earlier this year, Dog Haus partnered with two huge names — Kitchen United and Live Nation. Kitchen United assists in getting food quickly to the customer through delivery or pick-up, so that our main focus can be on preparing our quality food. Everything is designed to enable Dog Haus, and other participating restaurants, to create exceptional experiences for their off-premise customers.

We’ve also signed on as a food vendor partner with 15 of Live Nation’s venues. We’re now serving guests in arenas all across the country — including Dallas, Virginia Beach, Wantagh and many more. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Legends Hospitality and managers at these venues. It has been a great process for Dog Haus.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Honestly, I’m surprised it’s not more It takes a lot of insight and leadership qualities to be an employer leader and I think it’s harder to find these traits in people than most would think. I find a lot of employers don’t think of jobs as a way to change lives and impact their employees in a meaningful way. On the flip side, employees often get caught up in how much they’re getting paid and fail to focus on the core of their position (i.e. how they’re treated, recognition, available opportunities, etc.).

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact

Company productivity? Happy employees are often more creative and have more passion for adding to the company’s overall success. They encourage peers and are willing to be more collaborative. I often find these same people are more excited to come to work each day and have a loyalty to their company

Company profitability? Unhappy employees become negligent. They don’t want to complete tasks to the standards that are expected and this often leads to injuries, especially in the kitchen. If people are skipping steps in a restaurant process, it can lead to negative customer experience or food waste, overall affecting the bottom line. Happy employees, on the other hand, can end up being the brand’s best ambassador — encouraging friends and family to experience the brand and saturate the business.

Employee health and wellbeing? The last thing you want is an employee so stressed and anxious that they can’t sleep at night. This not only affects their work-life balance but also their performance the next day — leading to further unhappiness and stress. It’s important to create a culture of fun and balance, so they feel valued and fulfilled.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Implement a fun training program — 1Huddle

1Huddle is a workforce tech company that upskills, trains and fires up employees through the use of science-backed quick-burst mobile games. 1Huddle takes a mobile-first approach to prepare the modern worker. It offers a mobile library of quick burst employee skill games and has the option for personalized content. 1Huddle’s clients can build training in the form of a game in less than one minute — a vast contrast from the average 108 hours it takes to build an online e-learning course. Since adding 1Huddle, Dog Haus’ employees have played over 13,000 mobile games and are learning important information through modern methods that connect with today’s worker. Employees who continue to use the platform demonstrate greater brand knowledge across all areas compared to their peers who do not use it.

Have Resource Available — Entertaining training videos that employees can reference at any time for a refresher (humor is key!)

Provide Non-Typical Benefits

Dog Haus rolled out 1Huddle brand-wide as a week-long competition with a 1,000 dollars cash prize at the end. One employee at Dog Haus Biergarten Old Pasadena was determined to win the first competition and spent hours studying, he even created flashcards. Winning the competition and cash prize made a huge difference to his young family. Each month, Dog Haus creates a brand-wide contest in which all employees can participate to win prizes.

Dog Haus Educational Grant — This year, Dog Haus introduced an educational grant that will help employees pay for education for themselves or a family member. Each year, franchisees can nominate an employee to receive the grant. This year, Jerry Hernandez, our first Dog Haus employee, was the first winner to receive 10,000 dollars for his family!

Express appreciation — Just care. Care about them. Gate about their family. Care about their lives. Care about their future. Just care about them as people.

A clear idea of growth — Not just personal development plans for employees, but also for the company so that everyone is working towards a common goal.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

  1. Today more than ever it is clear that employees are less excited and less motivated to show up to work. This is not because they are lazy or spoiled, as so many make mention, but rather that companies are failing to adjust their people strategies to a new wave of workers. I believe that those workers don’t quit jobs…they quit their boss.
  2. We can do a few things to create a better work culture for our people: Challenge workers more: Employees are looking to be challenged in jobs…not just treated like robots. Create environments were healthy competition motivates workers to perform.
  3. Be ok with employees moving up or laterally: Gone are the days where an employee works for one company for their entire career. This means we need to do a better job of creating learning opportunities and experiences for workers to migrate through our organizations to have new experiences.
  4. Be clear about your corporate purpose: Companies should be more than just a mission statement but in order to do that they need to live their mission and bring it to life in all of their daily decisions and actions. Employees today say they want to be “on a mission” or part of a brand with clear “purpose”. We need to make this important.
  5. Schools need to move faster: employees hate jobs that they do not do well at…this means we need to do a better job preparing them for not just the jobs of today, but instilling skills that we know will prepare them for the future of work. We need schools that update the curriculum more frequently and get back to technical skills that have an immediate impact on a worker.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

Democratic. I want everyone to be involved in the decision-making process. I like to empower my teammates and encourage them to take ownership, leading to them having a party in their own success.

The traditional hierarchy is outdated. Personally, I don’t encourage the use of titles in the traditional sense. It’s all about character and skill — and our team is made up of some incredibly solid characters.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

  1. My Dad — My dad was a small business owner and an immigrant who worked five days a week and a half-day on Saturday, during which I got to watch him participate in an entrepreneurial atmosphere. I saw the way he treated his customers and employees and was enamored by his loyalty and care for everyone who worked with him. He never wavered, even when business wasn’t so great, he stayed strong and continued to work on his passion — becoming best at what he did and honing his craft. He always made sure our family was taken care of.
  2. Quasim’s (Dog Haus Partner) Dad — Quaism’s father was also an immigrant who built a successful business from the ground up. Though he didn’t know me too well at the time, he entrusted Quasim and me with his business, teaching us a different sort of ownership, ways for growth, and how to retain employees. He always treated his customers and employees like family. Dog Haus would have never come to be if it weren’t for his generosity.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We are thrilled to have brought back our No Kid Hungry Chef Collaboration Series once again this year. For the 2019 series, we brought on five talented chefs to join forces with our amazing Würstmacher, Adam Gertler, to develop limited-time menu items that were available system-wide. Each month from June through December, one of the chefs’ creations were featured on our menu. This year’s offerings included hot dogs, sausages, burgers, as well as, for the first time, wings and a vegan item, each of which showcased their chef creator’s inimitable culinary vision. Every purchase of each of these items provided 10 meals to children struggling with hunger in America.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s not how hard you hit, but how hard you get hit and get back up.” (Rocky)

Being a business owner is never as easy as it is portrayed in the media. Quite often, you feel as though you are continuously getting punched in the mouth, and you have to do your best to let it keep you on the ground. I believe being resilient is the most common characteristic amongst entrepreneurs.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Simply put, the world needs more entrepreneurs. Throughout my journey, I’ve found that a small team of talented and excited people can make any business succeed. Not only does owning a business create jobs, but it can create a sense of purpose, not just in the owner’s life, but for the people who are also invested in the company’s success.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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