Lazy Dog Inspires the Casual Dining 2.0 Movement
Aiming to run the next generation of casual dining with scratch cooking and a brand that takes responsibility for not only its guests but also the products it serves and the people it employs, Chris Simms opened the first Lazy Dog in Huntington Beach, California, in 2003.
“Every time I come home, my dog is the most excited individual in the house,” Simms says of the name choice. “We wanted people to be able to feel that welcome when they walk in, and we wanted them to just be able to kick back and relax and let us take care of everything.”
His goal beyond that was to appeal to a wide audience, the next generation of consumers—millennials and Generation Z—as well as the baby boomers.
So far, he’s succeeded. Walking through one of Lazy Dog’s 26 locations primarily on the West Coast, one could encounter a table of 5-year-olds and their parents celebrating a birthday party, an elderly couple on a date, and a group of young people pregaming for a night out with drinks and appetizers at the bar.
“It’s this balance of comfort and approachable classics that I think attract the older generation, and I think the bold innovation and the liveliness of the concept really attract the younger generation,” Simms says. Some of that balance coexists within the same item on the menu, like with the guest-favorite BBQ Bison Meatloaf, for example. It’s a comfort food, but it uses an innovative protein.
Favorite menu item right now: BBQ Veggie Burger, lemon gluten sensitive cake, and Thai peanut wings. —Chris Simms, Lazy Dog
Other dishes that have proven popular are the Togarashi Edamame Beans small plate and the Burrata + Heirloom Tomato Crisp. Both were developed from trend-watching at other concepts that appeal to Lazy Dog’s customers and then doing the brand’s take on it. The edamame, instead of served just sprinkled with salt like at sushi restaurants, is tossed in a wok with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, orange peel, and the Japanese red chili spice mix togarashi. The burrata crisp is served almost like a pizza with chili oil and pomodoro sauce. “One of our goals has been to introduce people to new foods,” Simms says.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming—where Simms spent a lot of his childhood—is the inspiration behind the brand’s natural decor choice. And, when looking for new locations, the team gravitates toward places with a lot of energy and traffic.
Another key to the brand’s success as it has continued to appeal to more people in more markets is its people-focused culture, Simms says. “In all of our decision making, we’re always thinking about our teammates, guests, and vendors: all of the stakeholders in our business. And I find that that creates an environment where people really love coming to work. They then, in turn, bestow that upon the guests,” he says. As long as the Lazy Dog team can maintain guest experience at this caliber, it will continue to grow, Simms says. There will be 30 Lazy Dog restaurants by the end of the year, and the brand hopes to open at a 20 percent pace as it enters markets moving forward.