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Burgers Are Going Upscale

A burger business might sound old school, but new hamburger restaurants are serving up patties with a twist

Americans always have a buck for a burger. In fact, this American staple is getting so much attention that it's inspiring some of the country's top chefs to start their own burger restaurants--including husband-and-wife team Tim and Liza Goodell, 40 and 36, respectively.

These restaurateurs just added 25 Degrees, a Hollywood, California, burger and wine bar, to their impressive list of restaurants. Offering assorted toppings such as caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and a variety of high-end cheeses, this isn't your typical burger joint. And neither is the sophisticated setting of crystal chandeliers, leather booths and velvet wallpaper. The 1,700-square-foot restaurant opened in February and is already on track to bring in $1,000 per square foot this year. "Hamburgers are the most commonly eaten food in the United States," says Tim, who plans to open several more locations in the Western U.S.

Ivan Brown, brand manager of ground beef at Cargill Meat Solutions, a producer of ground beef in Wichita, Kansas, couldn't agree more. According to Brown, 8.5 billion burgers were served in commercial restaurants during the 12 months ending March 2006. Entrepreneurs can beef things up with upgrades, customization and flavor. Give consumers high-end toppings, the freedom to create, and ethnic and untraditional flavor options, and this is one item certain to keep the grill red-hot. For those interested in franchising, check out this month's "What's New" column on page 126 for information about gourmet burger chain The Counter.

Getting Started
Ready to cook up your own burger restaurant? You can get started by:

  • Immersing yourself in the industry. Opening a hamburger restaurant may sound simple, but get some sound experience at a restaurant before jumping in headfirst. "I would advise that you have previous restaurant experience," says Tim Goodell, 39-year-old founder with wife Liza Goodell, 36, of 25 Degrees, a Hollywood, California, burger and wine bar. "[You've] got to know the numbers and the percentages well in order to succeed."
  • Setting yourself up for success. The restaurant industry is a competitive marketplace, says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC. "Anyone considering launching a new restaurant concept has to be extremely diligent in doing a pretty rigorous business plan and identifying not only the market area, but the demographics within that market area and making sure that they are aligned with the product offerings."
  • Knowing who you"re serving. Study your target market and take the time to get to know what they want and expect. According to Ivan Brown, brand manager of ground beef at Cargill Meat Solutions, a producer of ground beef based in Wichita, Kansas, customers today are willing to show you the money as long as they get options, flavor and quality in their burgers: "They"re willing to pay a little bit more, but they want their money"s worth."
  • Keeping an eye on the economy. Overall, the restaurant industry is exploding. In fact, according to Riehle, 47.5 percent of all food spending is allocated to the restaurant industry, and that percentage is expected to surpass 50 percent in the next decade. However, as fast as the industry is speeding forward, be aware of factors that might affect different segments of the industry. For example, recent studies have indicated that high energy and gas prices have hurt the casual dining segment, while leaving the fast food and high-end restaurants practically untouched. Tracking the economy will help you determine what your customer is willing to spend their disposable income on.
  • * Letting your imagination run wild. Differentiate yourself from the competition by using your creative thinking. Says Riehle, "[Hamburgers] will always remain an American favorite, but there are a lot of enhancements and tweaking of the basic menu item that can and are being done."
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