Kitchen United CEO Departs to Join Dog Haus | Franchise News

Kitchen United CEO Departs to Join Dog Haus | Franchise News

Kitchen United’s longtime CEO, Michael Montagano, is stepping down from the ghost kitchen pioneer and is taking the reins of Dog Haus after working as a corporate partner and serving on the fast-growing restaurant franchise’s board of directors for the last three years. 

During his tenure at Kitchen United, Montagano became one of the industry’s most visible thought leaders on restaurant delivery, ghost kitchens, virtual restaurants and the future of restaurant real estate. He joined the company as its chief financial officer in 2018 before becoming CEO in September 2020. 

Dog Haus is a 52-unit franchise known for gourmet hot dogs, burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. The Pasadena, California-based company launched Absolute Brands in 2020; it has grown to eight delivery-only concepts featured in the brand’s brick-and-mortar locations.

Kitchen United did not immediately name a successor, but Chief Business Officer Atul Sood said the company will make an announcement about its transition plan in the coming weeks. 

Michael Montagano left his post at Kitchen United to join Dog Haus as CEO.

In an interview with Franchise Times sibling publication Food On Demand, Montagano stressed how much he’s enjoyed his experience at Kitchen United over an intense run that included several massive industry shifts: the global rise of delivery, an industry-changing pandemic, a torrent of outside investment within the space and ghost kitchens being viewed as the savior or enemy at various points over the years. 

Montagano’s tenure also includes signing a landmark contract with grocery giant Kroger that placed Kitchen United centers inside many of its supermarket locations. Since that deal, Kitchen United has teased upcoming partnerships that Montagano said “will absolutely transform the company.” 

The outgoing CEO emphasized the importance of his relationship with investors, board members, coworkers and friends as they took Kitchen United through “some of the most unusual headwinds and tailwinds that I think most have ever experienced” in business. He added that his departure “has very little to do with the five years at Kitchen United and the wonderful experience I had there, and everything to do with the wonderful opportunity at Dog Haus.” 

Montagano said he’s extremely excited about the burger and hot dog brand’s next phase, as it seeks to accelerate its rate of growth while pushing into new geographic areas. He added he’s incredibly passionate about the food, and that it has quickly become a staple in his hometown of Pasadena, which is also Kitchen United’s home base. 

He also highlighted the Absolute Brands portfolio, especially its Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos virtual brand that is outperforming expectations and achieving a rare goal: finding consistent success in delivery during the breakfast daypart.

Nearly 50 percent of Dog Haus’s overall volume comes through off-premises channels, which Montagano finds especially notable for a brand known for its bars and beer gardens. Dog Haus expects to have 60 U.S. locations open and operating by the end of 2023. 

“We’re not talking about a pizza concept that delivers by nature,” he added. “I’m excited to dive into that further and help advance the technology for our franchisees.” He’s targeting first-party delivery while also continuing to push growth on third-party marketplaces, with the aim of creating better experiences for franchisees.

“That, to me, is what I’m excited for and it’s also a breeding ground to add in new, innovative things,” he said.

In a post on LinkedIn, Sood said Montagano has been an “instrumental” leader in the growth of Kitchen United, as well as a very close friend. 

“The team at Dog Haus is lucky to have him,” Sood wrote before adding a light-hearted jab. “He is a good man and a bad pickleball player. It might be his biggest area of opportunity. But his hair is great.” 

DogHaus-Absolute Brands

Absolute Brands is a portfolio of eight delivery-only concepts that run out of Dog Haus’s brick-and-mortar restaurants.

New ground for Dog Haus

The CEO role is new for Dog Haus, as the company has been led since its 2010 inception by founding partners and longtime friends Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz and André Vener. In addition to their professional work, Montagano is also close friends with Vener and the rest of Dog Haus’ leadership team. 

“We believe Dog Haus is positioned for exponential growth and, as such, we recognize the need to bolster our leadership team with a seasoned executive who can guide this brand, and our franchise partners, into the future—and Michael checks all the boxes,” Vener said in a statement. “Michael’s expertise in growing franchises, expanding virtual brands and delivery, and implementing new technologies and marketing strategies is exactly what we need as we capitalize on our momentum in the marketplace.”

Throughout his 20-year career in the restaurant industry, Montagano has worked in a variety of strategic commercial contexts with many large brands, from national partners such as Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Wingstop, Cinnabon and Jersey Mike’s to hyper-growth brands such as Portillo’s, Dave’s Hot Chicken, Hawaiian Bros and the Halal Guys.

Kitchen United has expanded to more than 150 kitchens across the country while securing partnerships with—and institutional funding from—Restaurant Brands International, Kroger, Alimentation Couche-Tard (the owner of Circle K convenience stores), Google Ventures, Fidelity Investments, Havi, RXR, Simon Property Group, DivcoWest and Rich’s Food Products.

According to Crunchbase, Kitchen United has attracted $150 million in funding through its 22 different investors. During Montagano’s leadership, the company also purchased New York-based Zuul Kitchens, which was another early-stage ghost kitchen provider, in 2021. 

A version of this story originally appeared August 30 in Food On Demand, a sibling publication to Franchise Times.

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