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15 Burger Concepts to Watch in ’15

The question of whether there’s room for still more burger restaurants keeps being asked. And the answer continues to come in the form of second, third or tenth locations for popular burger concepts. Burger 21, BurgerFi, Elevation Burger, Habit Burger and many others continue to expand: We’ve spotlighted 50 growth concepts over the past four years.



Burger-menu restaurants continue to be created and once established continue to multiply. Listed here are 15 such growing brands that bear watching next year. Some, such as Wahlburgers, likely are familiar, but others, including Boon Burger Café, likely aren’t but soon may be. These concepts exemplify the diversity in style that keeps the burger category of the restaurant business innovative and robust.


Bachi Burger, Las Vegas
After opening a second Vegas location, Bachi has gone to Los Angeles for its third unit. Bachi—short for hibachi—puts an Asian spin on its food. The Shogun Burger is Wagyu beef and unagi with pan-seared foie gras, poached Asian pear, miso butter and Yamamomo peach.  Chef’s Specials include Oxtail Chili Cheese Fries.


Boon Burger Cafe, Winnipeg, Canada
A vegan burger bar? How’s that going to work? No doubt it had its skeptics, but Michael Valiant’s animal-free, plant-based menu won converts. A second location opened in Winnipeg and now a third—in Barrie, Ontario—is open. Boon boasts 14 meat-free burgers made with one of four non-meat patties it makes. The grilled patty is made with cremini mushrooms, brown rice, onion, garlic, lemon juice, organic tofu and oats, seasoned with basil, oregano, salt and coarse black pepper.

Boston Burger Company, Boston
Bringing great burgers to the intelligentsia, Boston Burger Company’s third location will be in Cambridge, Mass. It’s famed for its house salsa, which is sold at retailers across Boston, but its half-pound Angus burgers also are revered (a little Boston humor).BurgerPriest

BRGR, Pittsburgh
BRGR goes where the burger lovers are. It just opened its third full-service location in Pittsburgh; it operates a popular concession at PNC Park; and it has a food truck taking burgers to the hungry. Signature build The BRGR is a half-pound of dry-aged prime beef with pickled red onion, arugula, creamy blue cheese and oven-roasted tomatoes.

The Burger’s Priest, Toronto
There are so many fast-growing Canadian chains—including The Works, Big Smoke and South St. Burger—that you might not notice that Burger’s Priest’s new location at Stone Road Mall is its seventh in the city. A self-described “Classic American Cheeseburger Joint,” it would fare well here if it decides to look south.

Citizen Burger Bar, Charlottesville, Va.
The full-service restaurant opened in 2012 in center-city Charlottesville. Now it’s heading north, across the Potomac from D.C., to Clarendon, Va., for a second location. Citizen will continue its pledge to source as many ingredients—including grass-fed beef—from Virginia farms as possible.

The H&F Cheeseburger

The H&F Cheeseburger

Grind Modern Burger, Boise, Idaho
When the original Grind in Eagle, Idaho, failed, owner Rick Boyd retooled it and opened in Boise. This time it’s working so well that Boyd told BurgerBusiness.com he’s looking at possible expansion to Spokane or Seattle.

H&F Burger, Atlanta
The cheeseburger at Chef/owner Linton Hopkins’ Holeman & Finch is the stuff of legend. It used to be available only 10 p.m. and only 24 were made each night, although the limitations were dropped last month. But that cheeseburger was such a local icon that Hopkins opened a downsized H&F Burger concession at Turner Field. A second H&F now is planned for Ponce City Market. Could this become the next Shake Shack?

Larkburger, Colorado
Larkburger may brand itself a “Colorado fast-casual chain” and have opened only within its home state, but Co-founder and CEO Adam Baker told BurgerBusiness.com in an interview that the chain soon will want to look beyond the Rockies. The West Coast seems the most likely landing site.Locl.logo

Loco’l, San Francisco
The first location won’t open until 2015, but when it’s the brainchild of chefs Roy Choi (of Los Angeles’ Kogi) and Daniel Patterson (Coi in San Francisco), you’d better believe it’s worth watching. Choi’s promising healthier burgers than any of the QSR chains offer. He’s making big plans—the first Loco’l will be in San Francisco; then it’s on to Los Angeles, Detroit and the world—and he’s talking tough. “Don’t tell me we don’t want great delicious cheap fast food,” Choi told Inside Scoop SF. “It’s only because we haven’t been given the choice to choose, and we destroy our youth and our neighborhoods with corporations that serve addictive poison that we convince ourselves otherwise.

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, Los Angeles
The concept that invented “ketchup leather” (think Fruit Roll-Ups) has three locations open and is itching for more. In an interview, partner Ernesto Uchimura told BurgerBusiness.com that “it would be smart to expand to other cities in California.” The Pacific Northwest is under consideration, too.

Rev Burger, Chicago
Owners Bill and Wendy Spatz had barely opened the first Rev Burger in Carol Stream, Ill., before they were scouting sites for their “Healthier Revolution” food in Chicago. The downtown location is open now and more are expected, even in Chicago’s crowded burger marketplace. “We set this up to be a franchise from the start,” Bill Spatz told BurgerBusiness.com earlier this year.

The All-American Burger at Canada's Union Burger

The All-American Burger at Canada’s Union Burger

Rok:Brgr Burger Bar +Gastropub, Miami
The first two locations are in Miami but owner JEY Hospitality Group has put the third Rok:Brgr in The Village at Gulfstream in Hallendale Beach, Fla. The menu offers 14 burgers—including the Sweet Caroline with aged Cheddar, BBQ short rib, coleslaw, fried onion and bourbon BBQ sauce—and a build-your-own option. The full-service bar is hoppin’.

Union Burger, Mississauga, Ont.
With a dozen units in Canada, Union Burger quietly invaded in 2013, opening in Clearwater, Fla. Apparently it likes the weather there and its second U.S. location will be in Orlando. Yes, they brought the poutine down with them.

Wahlburgers, Hingham, Mass.
I overlooked this concept last year and in the interim it has gone crazy, opening in Toronto and announcing plans for not one but three locations in Las Vegas. Oh and it got its own A&E reality TV show, too. Anyone who dismissed this as a vanity concept for Mark Wahlburg and his brothers are finding just how serious about good burgers they are.


The Turkey Burger is Ready for its Closeup

Thanksgiving week is turkey burgers’ equivalent of birthdays: It’s when they get to be the center of attention and appreciated for a few days before they go back to being ignored.

Zinburger's Thanksgiving Burger

Zinburger’s Thanksgiving Burger

Like a lot of burger concepts, the Zinburger chain nine East Coast locations offers a special Thanksgiving Burger this week, and it looks to be a fine one: A freshly ground turkey patty with hearts of palm stuffing, cranberry sauce, mayo and shredded lettuce.

But at Zinburger, the turkey burger doesn’t hide unnoticed and unloved at the bottom of the menu during the rest of the year. Year-round the chin menus a deceptively simple turkey burger that for the past two year has been one of its top sellers, more popular than any of the three chicken burgers, the veggie burger or the ahi sandwich.

“As with any good burger, the key is the quality of the meat and letting that shine through,” says Zinburger Executive Chef David Maini. “We use fresh breast meat that we grind in-house. We sear it quickly to lock in juices, cook it through and then keep it simple.”

Burger 21's Decadent Turducken Burger

Burger 21′s Decadent Turducken Burger

The build includes Swiss cheese, lettuce, mayo and sprouts. It’s a juicy, appealing burger that sells on its own, Maini says, not as an alternative to beef or anything else. Its popularity is “across the board” and defined by gender or age group, he says.

Earlier this month, BurgerBusiness.com compiled “21 Thanksgiving Burger Specials,” but in addition to Zinburger’s entry there are a few others that merit attention for audacity if not always culinary acumen.

Hopdoddy's Thanksgiving on a Bun

Hopdoddy’s Thanksgiving on a Bun

The Burger 21 chain is tackling a legend. The Decadent Turducken Burger features a hand-formed turkey burger stuffed with a blend of rosemary chicken inside of duck. It tops this with melted Brie and house-made cherry, cranberry and red apple chutney.

Zombie Burger + Drink Lab in Des Moines, Iowa, can be counted on to offer something special and it doesn’t disappoint. The Thankskilling tops a beef patty with smoked pulled turkey, mashed potato croquette, turkey gravy, fried onion strings and sage stuffing. Still hungry? Try the special Sweet Potato Shake.

Finally, Hopdoddy Burger Bar in Texas, Arizona and now Colorado is taking the prize for verticality with the Thanksgiving on a Bun. Neatly stacked are an all-natural turkey patty, sage pesto, jalapeňo cornbread stuffing, house-made ginger-cranberry chutney, Gouda cheese and, why not, bacon Brussels sprouts salad.

McDonald’s Hackathon Seeks Millennial Engagement

By Monday, McDonald’s will have discovered the app that will best digitalize the restaurant experience and engage Millennials.

That’s the goal, at least, of McDonald’s three-day Hackathon—organized by BeMyApp—being  conducted today through Sunday (Nov. 23) in London. “If you are a developer, designer, startup-er, student or just passionate about new technology, register to come and be part of reinventing the restaurant digital experience in just 48 hours,” according to the event’s site, which invites participants to bring pajamas and sleeping bags.

The goal is for participants to work together to create “an innovative idea related to engaging digital in the McDonald’s restaurant experience.” The site offers these app suggestions: “How do you keep the McDonald’s Millennial customers after they leave the restaurant?” “How do you reward our key Millennial customers? How do you incentivize them to keep coming back without offering discounts, coupons o promotions?”

McDonald's explains how to use Apple Pay.

McDonald’s explains how to use Apple Pay.

A McDonald’s spokesperson told Marketing magazine that the Hackathon is intended “to involve our customers, experts and the wider public in our innovation processes, and specifically around digitalising the restaurant experience. The restaurant is the home of our brand and the physical experience we have there is key to how our customers engage with and love our brand.”

McDonald’s has made it clear through hiring and resource allocation that it intends to be the technology leader in the restaurant business. It named Atif Rafiq its first Chief Digital Officer and set up an office in San Francisco to work with tech giants. The chain recently partnered with Apple Pay for payments at both the counter and drive-thru.

During its Q3 conference call last month, President-CEO Don Thompson said the company intends redirect nearly $100 million to long-term growth initiatives such as its digital programs and “Experience of the Future,” which he said would involve broad, digital engagement elements.

A McDonald’s app is already under development. “We did a major test in Australia to look at the actual global application what we call the global app, which is built upon our new-path technology system and allows us to continue to add on different applications to support various needs from pay and order to other things such as music,” Thompson said.

“That global app will be launched in 2015 with some of the promotional offers in the U.S. and we will continue expanding the already established mobile applications that we have in some of the markets outside of the U.S.”

Casual Dining’s Cyclical Burger Love

Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant this week became the latest casual-dining chain to rediscover that highly customizable, moderately priced menu favorite, the burger.

The chain’s new “#RBurgerLove” menu includes six builds:

Rock Bottom's Smokin Jalapeno Burger

Rock Bottom’s Smokin Jalapeno Burger

  • Ale Yeah Burger: A Certified Angus Beef (CAB) patty basted with house ale and served with sautéed poblano peppers, lettuce, tomato and jalapeño cream cheese spread on a buttery toasted brioche bun ($12.95, although all prices may vary by market).
  • Chili Cheddar Burger: House-made beef brisket chili on a CAB patty with two helpings of sharp Cheddar cheese and crispy friend onion strings; served on a grilled onion bun ($12.95).
  • Smokin Jalapeño Burger:  A CAB patty with fresh jalapeños, jalapeño butter, pepper-Jack cheese and chipotle mayo; served on with lettuce on the toasted brioche bun ($11.95)
  • Bison Prairie Burger: A seasoned bison patty smash-griddled and topped with sautéed poblano peppers and mushroom, pepper-Jack cheese, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo on the toasted brioche bun ($13.95)
  • Smashed & Stacked: Two CAB patties griddle-fried and then stacked with Rock Bottom signature pub sauce, shaved pickles and Cheddar; served on the toasted brioche bun ($11.95).
  • BBQ Brisket Stuffed Burger: BBQ beef brisket shredded and stuffed into a premium beef patty, topped with smoked Gouda cheese, lettuce and tomato; served on a grilled onion bun ($13.95). Click here to continue reading Casual Dining’s Cyclical Burger Love

Qdoba’s Gamble on All-Inclusive Pricing

How do you set your brand apart in a tough, competitive marketplace? Mexican fast-casual chain Qdoba is finding that the concept “No charge” can help. It’s a discovery from which burger concepts that charge for add-ons also can learn.

Qdoba_FreeFlavorLast month, the chain, owned by Jack in the Box, announced a new simplified pricing structure. Essentially all entrees are $7.80 or $8.40 depending on protein selected. That’s a bit higher than previous entry prices, but now customers can add on as many additional components—including house-made guacamole, 3-Cheese Queso, Queso Diablo and others–as they want without additional cost. It was a gamble, but “it was really important that as we tried to differentiate the brand we didn’t just differentiate it with the food but also differentiated it in the way we provide the service,” Jack in the Box Chairman, President and CEO Lenny Comma told analysts this week.

Qdoba_Queso“Our guests told us that they hated being nickeled and dimed for add-ons and upgrades and they have responded favorably to the new pricing structure,” Comma said. This pricing model not only simplifies service it also creates a more upbeat experience for crew as well as customers.

“If you can imagine going down at Qdoba line and having the service provider have to tell you, with all the different things that you wanted to add to your meal that that was going to be extra, what it created was this tension between the guest service person and the consumer where there was stress from our employees as they kept having to nickel and dime the consumer,” he said. “As a result of that, we are we are seeing, at least qualitatively, that the consumers are quite pleased with the guest service and the change. It’s just much simpler and it’s much more focused on a quality meal.”

Initially, Qdoba saw some resistance from consumers who focused on the higher-priced starting price points, but that was expected, Comma said. “We hypothesized that as folks started to experience burritos with guacamole and with Queso Diablo and those types of things, grilled vegetables, that the finished product would bring them back and that essentially they would in their minds develop a new consumer value proposition that says essentially, this food is way better and its worth a little bit more.” Consumers also like the predictability of the new pricing model, he said.

Qdoba didn’t rejigger its pricing model because sales were slow. On the contrary, it has performed better than sibling Jack in the Box in the past year. Same-store sales rose 5.7% for its fiscal year at company-owned Qdoba stores, compared with 2% for company Jack in the Box.

Qdoba has marketed its new pricing approach primarily through digital media (using the hashtag #FreeYourFlavor) and Comma coined a new social-media-influenced term when he told analysts that the chain has “some exciting new items we are launching in a few weeks that we think will be instantly Instagrammable.”

Five Burger Trends to Watch in 2015

Last year BurgerBusiness.com forecast a Year of Fresh with vegetables and herbs emerging as popular toppings. We didn’t wait longer than February for that to be borne out: Burger Boss in Evergreen Park, Ill., made the French Cauliflower Melt its burger of the month. So I’ll say I was good on that forecast.

2015 could be the Year of the Cheeseburger because of, not in spite of, higher beef prices.

2015 could be the Year of the Cheeseburger because of, not in spite of, higher beef prices.

But I missed on hot dogs. Hot dogs were everywhere on menus this year, from Sonic’s Cheesy Bread Dogs and Chili Cheese Pretzel Dogs to Carl’s Jr.’s Jumbo Chili Dogs. Indies like Crow Burger Kitchen in Newport Beach, Calif., and Grill ’Em All in Alhambra, Calif., are topping burgers with grilled hot dogs.

What I also didn’t see coming was the crazily rapid rise of menu crowd sourcing. It seems every independent burger bar now has asks customers to dream up the burger of the month or some other special. McDonald’s has successfully run its “My Burger” promotion across Europe. Have burger joints run out of ideas? No, I think the “create our next LTO” trend is about customer engagement, and that’s always good.

So how about 2015? I think these five trends are worth watching:

The Year of the Cheeseburger: Not the cheeseburger with bacon, arugula, aïoli, sambal and onion rings. Just a good ol’ Cheeseburger, where the quality of good beef reclaims the spotlight. Does that mean over-the-top burgers are passé? Certainly not! They’re fun and delicious. But sometimes simple is best. Sometimes what’s wanted is a good burger. Burger joints and their customers will rediscover simple in 2015. That first entry on most burger joint menus, sometimes called the Original or the Classic or just Cheeseburger, gets in the game again in 2015. Click here to continue reading Five Burger Trends to Watch in 2015

Burger Traffic Dips in Q3

McD_Customer.350Customer traffic for quick-service burger restaurants declined 3% during the summer months of Q3, a normally busy time for the segment. The NPD Group says overall restaurant industry traffic was flat during July, August and September.

However, customer traffic was up a robust 8% (compared with a year ago) at fast-casual concepts during the quarter. Mexican QSRs and coffee/doughnut/bagel concepts each posted strong 5% increases in visits.

Asian QSRs and sandwich concepts (such as Subway and Arby’s) each were down 1% in customer traffic in Q3.

Spending was up 3% due to higher menu prices that increased average checks. NPD did not provide a Q3 average check figure but it was $6.67 in Q2. Perhaps because overall customer traffic remains sluggish, the share of visits that involved some sort of discount or deal increased 4%.

Research: Casual Dining’s Emotional Detachment

Casual-dining restaurants have encountered more than their share of difficulties recovering from the recession. Onetime category leader Red Lobster’s rapid decline is the most obvious example. But a new study from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says casual-dining restaurant (CDR) brands can rescue themselves. While it concludes that economic indicators and dining trends “suggest that the tide for most CDRs will continue to recede,” it is “premature to write off the CDR segment as having lost its relevance.”

The report, “Casual Dining: How Brands Can Pivot from Irrelevance to Growth,” was written by BCG’s Tom Lutz, Dylan Bolden, Keith Melker and Mary Martin. It sees the CDR segment as being “at another historical inflection point, with older brands that have not maintained their differentiation fading and newer players rising to take their places.” Casual concepts have been hit by a number of marketplace shifts, including the health & wellness trend’s emphasis on fresh, high-quality ingredients (to which CDRs are slowly responding); the growth of breakfast , which most CDRs do not offer; time-constrained lifestyles that benefit faster service models; and CDRs’ inefficiency in converting first-time guests to repeat customers (a 6.5% conversion rate, compared with 15% for quick-service and 18% for fast casual).


And while 23% of CDR visits come from Millennials, BCG’s report says that age group chooses quick-service restaurants (QSRs) or fast-casuals (FCs) more often. Click here to continue reading Research: Casual Dining’s Emotional Detachment