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Smashburger, which was named as the top fast-casual restaurant chain in the country, opened its first Baton Rouge location Wednesday, the latest so-called “better burger” eatery to enter the market.
Better burger restaurants offer a premium product, with patties made from fresh, never-frozen beef and a wide range of toppings. Generally, the burgers sell for a few dollars more than the offerings at McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s.
“The better burger market has grown up in the past five or six years,” said John A. Gordon, principal of Pacific Management Consulting Group, a San Diego-based group that works with restaurants. “Honestly, some of the traditional quick-service burger players got really bad.”
In recent months, Baton Rouge has seen growth in the better burger segment. There’s the Smashburger on Corporate Boulevard. Red Robin, one of the originators of the trend, re-entered the market after a decadelong absence with a restaurant that opened at the Mall of Louisiana just before Christmas. Lafayette-based Burgersmith will open its second local restaurant on Siegen Lane in early summer and a Juban Crossing location will be open by the end of the year.
Chuck Kerr, who has the local franchise rights for Mooyah Burgers Fries & Shakes with his wife, Denise, said he’s looking at opening a second Baton Rouge-area restaurant and is eyeing a Millerville Road location. Officials with Dallas-based Mooyah said the Kerr’s Siegen Lane location has been one of the chain’s top-performing restaurants in terms of sales.
Kerr credits his restaurant’s success to offering a high-quality product and consistently good customer service. “We have a simple menu, yet it’s complex,” he said. While he just sells beef, turkey or veggie patties, there are a wide range of toppings and sauces — so many that the chain boasts there are 1.2 million different ways to make a Mooyah burger.
“The neatest part about the whole thing is that the customer is benefiting from capitalism,” he said. “They’re getting more choices and better choices.” Kerr said he expects the major fast-food chains, such as McDonald’s, will take their resources and revamp their menus so they can compete with the better burger restaurants.
The better burger segment accounted for $3.5 billion in sales in 2014, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm based in Chicago.
Tristano said he’s forecasting about 10 percent growth for the better burger chains over the next five years, thanks to the performance of such popular chains as Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Smashburger.
Robert Barbour, part of the franchise group that owns the Baton Rouge Smashburger, said customers are willing to pay an extra dollar or two for a quality hamburger. “People are demanding a better burger and better choices in their fast-casual dining,” Barbour said.
Smashburger was named the top chain by Fast Casual magazine in 2014. In seven years, the Denver-based company has grown to 325 locations. Smashburger gets its name from the preparation technique, which uses a custom-made, five-sided tool to smash balls of raw meat into the grill. This sears the bottom of the patty and allows the burgers to cook in their own juices.
Barbour said his franchise group plans to open 10 to 15 restaurants in their territory, which stretches from Lafayette through Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee.
“Hamburgers are incredibly popular and a canvas for innovation and creativity,” Tristano said. “They’re a great familiar product that’s affordable and consumers continue to eat them.”