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Shula Burger Sets Its Game Plan

It has been more than 40 years since Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins had their perfect season and Super Bowl victory, which means many of the young adults drawn to Shula Burger restaurants have little connection with the Shula name. Now, as the chain prepares for the opening of its first franchised location next month in Delray Beach, Fla., and for the beginning of national expansion, four-unit Shula Burger is anchoring its brand more on food than football.

The burger concept is being more closely aligned with its parent, the 31-unit Shula’s steakhouse chain with which consumers may be familiar. Shula Burger’s website proclaims, “If you love our steaks, you will flip for our burgers.”

“We’re carving out a niche for ourselves as ‘fast casual plus,’” Shula Burger President Scott Nietschmann says. “We’ve taken things we’ve learned from the steakhouses and applied them to fast casual, just with different pricing. With everything we do, we take it a step above what you would normally see in fast casual. We brand our buns to give our burgers a distinctive look. Food is served on plates, salads in bowls; there’s real silverware. Cooks wear chef coats not t-shirts, which shows how serious we are about our food.”

Burgers dominate the menu and made with a blend of Certified Angus Beef along with short rib, brisket and chuck. The menu has nine standard burgers plus one slot for a regional choice. The signature Shula Burger is simply topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. A nod to the coach is The Don, combining a beef patty and a hot dog topped with pickle, onion sauce American cheese and yellow mustard on a brioche bun. The chain also has begun creating a Burger of the Month, which for May is the Three Little Pigs (beef patty topped with ham, bacon and pulled pork). VP-Operations/Head Chef Peter Farrand oversees culinary matters.

A build-your-own-burger option is offered but Nietschmann says 80% of burger orders are for the signature choices.

The flagship Shula Burger

The flagship Shula Burger

The concept’s average check is roughly $10 at lunch and $11 to $14 at dinner. Six craft beers and a wine selection chosen by the Shula organization’s sommelier are available. Alcoholic beverages account for a small percentage of sales and Nietschmann is fine with that. “We want to offer quality beer and wine choices but we’re not really a bar concept,” he says. Still he says Shula Burger is considering instituting a “happy hour” program to draw more people during the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. hours.

Shula Burger will be tracking sales results for the franchised unit opening in Delray Beach, Fla., to provide metrics for future franchisees. “We’ll likely begin [franchising] in the Southeast since the Shula name is strongest here,” Nietschmann says. “But by no means is this a regional chain.” Markets where Shula’s steakhouses operates—including Atlanta, Chicago, New York City’s Times Square and Phoenix—will be considered.

Two of the four Shula Burger units open are in airports and more nontraditional sites are possible. “We’ll look at all opportunities,” he says. “This is a great concept that fits many venues.”

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