Bubba Burger Adds to Frozen Food Line

JACKSONVILLE — Months after closing most of its short-lived restaurants, Bubba Burger is going back to its roots in grocery store freezer cases in search of new avenues of growth.

Three months ago the company released a new line of products called Bubba Grillers that include a center cut pork loin chop, hot Italian sausage, mild Italian sausage and bratwurst. There is also now a Bubba steak line that includes a beef sirloin filet wrapped in applewood bacon.

In January Bubba Burger will release a line of frozen barbecue products, starting with a Carolina pulled pork that may be expanded based on the initial product’s success, said company spokesman Andy Stenson.

The company opened four restaurants last year, three of which have already closed. Stenson said because the restaurants were a very small part of the company’s overall revenue stream to begin with, it has done little to hurt the company’s revenue growth, which has been in the single digits in 2012.

“We were hoping to expand the brand that way, but we just made the decision that it wasn’t the growth that we expected,” Stenson said. “Now we’re just taking care of our core business.”

Bubba Burger, based in Jacksonville, is best known for its frozen burger products that are sold nationwide and through the U.S. Military Commissary System to bases all over the world.

The company garnered attention last year after it acquired the four former Times Grill restaurants in Jacksonville and reopened them as Original Bubba Burger Grills.

It was the company’s first foray into the restaurant business and executives said then that they expected to open the restaurants nationwide. Now, only the restaurant on Normandy Boulevard remains open. Stenson said the Normandy restaurant had always been the most consistent performing restaurant of the four. He said the company is still monitoring sales there closely and will determine whether or not to keep the restaurant open based on continued sales.

The company now has a new focus for expansion: college campuses. Stenson said the company is negotiating with several local colleges and colleges in other parts of the South and the U.S. to start serving as a vendor on campus.

Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at the research and consulting company Technomic Inc., said that while the better burger concept, which is characterized by a more gourmet burger, is growing increasingly popular in the restaurant industry, it’s not as easy as just opening a burger restaurant.

“Even if you have a good product, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a good restaurant,” Tristano said. “It can be very difficult.”

Tristano noted that it would be easier for a restaurant to add retail products, such as TGI Friday’s frozen line of appetizers or IHOP’s frozen line of breakfast items, than for a retailer to go into an entirely different business.

“But I applaud them for trying,” Tristano said of Bubba Burger. “If you have a good burger, it makes sense to give it a try.”

Stenson said the company continues to test other possible products, such as a line of Bubba barbecue sauces, and continues to expand its vendor relationships with professional sports teams and sponsorships of race cars.

“You never know where we’re going to go next,” Stenson said.

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