Dog Haus - a restaurant chain that serves up gourmet hot dogs, sausages, and burgers - plans to open a franchise in downtown Vista over the summer.
The fast-casual eatery offers artisan dogs like fan favorite Sooo Cali, which comes covered with toppings like wild arugula and spicy basil aioli on grilled King's Hawaiian rolls. Then there's the handcrafted sausages in various flavors - spicy thai currywurst, for one - and the black Angus beef burgers.
Franchise owner Henry Lee said Friday he was hooked on the idea of opening up a Dog Haus shortly after he walked into one.
"As soon as I saw the vibe and tasted the food, I was blown away," Lee said. Aside from the gourmet meats, the menu includes fries and shakes, sodas and craft beer.
Lee said he anticipates the Vista restaurant - at the corner of Indiana Avenue and Broadway - will feature a beer garden and have upwards of 20 brands on tap, including many local brews.
For nearly 60 years, the downtown property was home to a shoe repair shop, and for about half that time it was operated by cobbler and Vista booster Tom Fleming. Two years ago, Fleming closed his business and sold the land to developer Lev Gershman.
Gershman tore down the old building - it was too far gone to be saved - and built a restaurant space in hopes of attracting a high-end eatery.
He said he went through 10 potential tenants - and turned away a couple, including Dog Haus - before making a new push to advertise the site. He had Asian fusion food in mind.
Dog Haus, however, persisted and Gershman eventually went and ate at two of the company's restaurants.
"The food was excellent, the build-out was excellent," Gershman said. He said he was also swayed by the chain's history of community outreach.
Founded in Pasadena in 2010, Dog Haus has 22 locations in five states, from California to Colorado. The only Dog Haus in San Diego County is in downtown San Diego, on Ninth Avenue near Broadway.
Last fall, the company announced a partnership aimed at opening roughly 300 new Dog Haus franchise locations in 12 states over the next seven years.
Director of Marketing C.J. Ramirez said Dog Haus sees itself not as fast-casual, but as "craft-casual."
"Vista is a thriving area," Ramirez said. "It's got the craft beer scene, and we think our brand will do well there."
Lee said he and longtime friend, business partner and fellow UC San Diego graduate Scott Lee (no relation) were hooked on the Vista site from the start.
"We saw the building, we looked at each other and said 'Oh my God, this is perfect,'" Lee said. "We love the building, the location, the vibe."
Lee also pointed to the craft beer scene in Vista, as well as the millions of dollars spent on improvements to downtown "to make it look as gorgeous as it does."
"I really want to be a part of that community," Lee said. "Dog Haus will fit in perfectly."