Anthony Ackil, Jon Olinto and Tony Rosenfeld opened the first b. good restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay in January 2004. The concept’s signage promises “Real. Food. Fast” and the idea from the start was to prepare and serve locally sourced, all-natural food with QSR efficiency. Customers can order an all-natural beef, turkey chicken or veggie burger prepared in one of five ways (with a wild card seasonal prep style). Making it West Side calls for lettuce, tomato, onion and house-made pickles; El Guapo brings bacon, house jalapeňo ranch dressing, lettuce, tomato and onion. Fries are hand cut daily; shakes use local ice cream, whole fruit and natural juices. Co-founder Anthony Ackil, whose Uncle Faris’s cooking is credited with giving him and boyhood pal Jon Olinto their love of food, spoke with BurgerBusiness.com about the concept’s new move into franchising.
You opened your 10th location on March 16 in Shrewsbury, Mass., and that was your first franchised store. Was watching someone else open and own your concept a little like putting your child on a school bus for the first time?
Yeah, it was hard. It was. But with all the franchises we’ve sold we feel we’ve chosen the right partners. That’s how we approach it. We’re not just trying to sell, we’re trying to find partners who believe in what we’re doing, who believe in real food and have the same ideals we do. People who want to do it right.
So we’re excited about it. It’s taken us a long time to get to this point. We invested a lot of time into getting ready to franchise so we feel we’re completely ready to do it.
Did you plan to franchise the concept from the start?
You know, we always wanted to be big. We didn’t go into this with the idea of opening one store. From the beginning we worked to perfect the model and it took time. We’re making and serving real food and we’re serving it fast, so you have to make those processes simple. Then you make sure the economics work so our partners can make real money. And it took us a while, but we set out to make this concept really big.
It’s not like we opened last year and immediately started franchising. We’ve been open nine years and we’ve been successful. We know what works and we know what doesn’t work in this business. We’re in a different situation than a lot of franchisors. We have a base of stores so we don’t have to sell franchises to make money, but we want to grow. The best way to do that, we decided, is to choose franchise partners.
When did you know the time was right?
We started working toward this two years ago. We took our time and got our manuals together and talked with consultants and lawyers. We took time to make everything right. Our goal when we started down the path to franchising was to make this a best-in-class system. We think our economics are best in class and our training materials and the support system are too. We didn’t say, “Hey, let’s start selling.” We wanted to do it right and create a business that’s going to be here for the long run and not just sell over night.
Was that process of preparing all your systems a bigger task than you expected it would be?
It was big. We knew it would be, but, yeah, it was a bigger task than we thought. Just getting everything down on paper from how we cut carrots to how we want employees treated and everything else is no easy task.
Because there’s such a strong food philosophy at the heart of your concept, you must have wanted to make it all clear and mandatory.
Exactly. There’s a culture we want to create. A lot of that depends on our choosing the right franchisees. But it’s also on us to provide the tools and to train them clearly on what we want, how we want the stores to be.
You and Jon Olinto have been friends since 5th grade, right?
Yep, fifth grade. We always talked about opening our own business. We started a landscaping business when we were in 7th grade. We were always talking about it and working towards it. After college [at Harvard], I lived at home with my parents to save money because there was always the idea that Jon and I would start our on business. I always thought about that.
How did burgers enter the picture?
We took it seriously. We asked ourselves what do we want that’s not available in the market right now. We were 25 years old and we wanted somewhere we could feel good about what we were eating and that was inexpensive and fast. We felt there wasn’t anything out there that was serving what we like to eat—burgers and fries and shakes—that was made in a way you could feel good about. We had grown up eating fast food, eating McDonald’s, and we loved how it tasted but we didn’t love how it made us feel about what we were putting into our bodies. Not knowing where the food was sourced. We took it from there. What would we want and how could we get there?
Since then the burger-restaurant landscape has changed quite a bit. There are so many more concepts out there. Do you still think that b. good is distinctive and stands out?
I think it’s completely different. We’re opening three stores next to Five Guys stores right now. I think when you get down to it, the biggest thing is that our customers are different. We skew toward women. Our focus is on young professionals and young families who care about what they’re putting in their bodies and what they feed their children. It’s a different customer base and a different product.
And we don’t just serve burgers. We serve a great line of salads and shakes and turkey burgers and house-made veggie burgers. It’s a broader menu; not just a burger and fries place.
You’ve chosen to keep your menu limited. Do you expect to stay with that?
For our concept to work economically, we have to keep things simple. We don’t want a huge menu with a 1,000 things going on. We things to be easy at a store level. We want a simple model with the best ingredients and products. No matter where we go and however big we get, the model at the store level has to stay simple.
We don’t make sauces and dressings in the units. We do cut onions and potatoes and grind beef in the store, but at the corporate level we run a manufacturing plant where we make our sauces and dressings and our veggies burgers from scratch and that all gets sent out to the stores.
You have photos of the farmers you work with in your stores and you emphasize sourcing. As your concept spreads out beyond Massachusetts, are you worried about striking new relationships with providers of the same quality?
It’s going to be on us to do that. That’s something we’ve considered but there are a ton of local farms and a lot of ways to source things. What franchisees see is food coming in from US Foods. What we do is find ways to make things locally. Our beef is all from Pineland Farms Natural Meats [in New Gloucester, Maine]. They’re a conglomerate of local farmers throughout New England and each franchisee gets beef from a farm that’s part of them. We choose all the farms that get distributed to our stores through US Foods.
As we go west we’ll look for other partners, especially for beef and some of the produce, but overall I think our supply chain is strong.
How big do you think you can get?
We want hundreds of restaurants. We think there’s a hole in the market and there isn’t anyone doing just what we are. Our advantage is that we’ve perfected our model at the store level. When you’ve serving what we we’re serving, it takes awhile to figure it out. You have to look at everything, from how the labor model fits in to cost of goods, and you always need to be tweaking things.
I think we’ve got a need for this; people are looking for what we have now.
Are you ready to be the guy in the suit overseeing the corporation?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ll ever be that guy. I’m a worker at the heart of it. I am not here to sit in an office and delegate. Not me.
That must be why you’ve had such success.
Absolutely. That’s who we hire: people who want to dig in and makes things right. There’s a difference between talking about it and digging in and figuring it out so that it’s right. We’ve never been ones to just say, “Hey, this is great.” We’re going to make sure it really is great.