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Smashburger is Hungry for More Than Burgers

There’s no need for panic. You needn’t edge your way toward the exit. But there’s something unsettling about Smashburger’s decision this week to significantly expand its menu with seven chicken entreés but not a single new burger. After all, Smashburger not only uses “burger” in its name, it also is one of the pioneering fast-casual concepts that took burgers upscale while celebrating regional burger variations. So the flood of chicken sandwiches and salads announced today can’t help but seem like something vaguely retrograde to burgermania is at work here.

“Our customers have told us that they love what we have done with burgers and want to see the same innovation and magic in our chicken and salad menu,” Smashburger founder Tom Ryan is quoted as saying in a release announcing the new menu. In an interview with BurgerBusiness.com last October, Ryan made chicken and salads seem like requirements but not stars. “We’ll have a necessary amount of nonburger foods—chicken sandwiches, entrée salads and kids meals—that you really need to have to make the occasion relevant. I would say that having a chicken salad and kids meals helps us sell more burgers,” he said then.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with chicken or salads. I’m just wondering if Smashburger’s move, coming on the heels of burger icon Krystal’s addition of chicken wings, is the beginning of a general broadening of burger joint menus. Are chicken wraps and smoothies next at Five Guys? Are Cobb Salads coming to In-N-Out 

What Smashburger, which bills itself as “Every City’s Favorite Burger Place,” added this week are three chicken sandwiches—BBQ Ranch Smashchicken, Avocado Club Smashchicken and Buffalo Smashchicken—and four salads: Honey Mustard Chicken Smashsalad; Chicken Caesar Smashsalad; Harvest Chicken Smashsalad and BBQ Chicken Ranch Smashsalad. The chicken sandwiches now can be ordered in a “crispy” format as well as the traditional smashed/grilled style.

Ξ In other news notes, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers was announced as recipient of the National Restaurant Association’s 2010 Restaurant Neighbor Award in the large-business category. The award celebrates restaurants’ commitments to the communities in which they operate. Red Robin was honored, in part, for the $2 million it has given to kids and family programs since 2005. Well done.

Ξ With McDonald’s promoting its Angus Snack Wrap in the U.S. now, it’s worth noting that Hungry Jack’s (Burger King) is taking the idea to breakfast. The Australian chain’s breakfast  Angus Wrap (above) combines an Angus patty, egg, bacon, cheese and barbecue sauce in a tortilla. McDonald’s has answered with a Tomato Brekkie McMuffin. Advantage: Hungry Jack’s.

Ξ In Germany, Burger King has declared the arrival of “Die TexMex Weeks.” On the menu: new Salsa Cheese Whopper and Western Barbecue Whopper plus “Texican Cheese Balls.” It’s a small world.

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