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Life After Vegan
The founder of the Mr. Goodburgers animal-free burger chain is reentering the restaurant game with four new concepts.
The Hotdoggery and Wink's Cheeseburger Factory are two new concepts from the founder of Mr. Goodburgers.

“I’ve come full circle,” Anthony Spadaro proclaims. The cofounder of the now-defunct vegan burger chain Mr. Goodburgers is returning to his roots with four new concepts built around the business he grew up in: meat.

Spadaro, whose family has been involved in the sausage-making business for generations, has partnered with Rich Peck and Jerry Eggers to form Restaurant-in-a-Box, LLC. The company is set to launch flagship restaurants for four throwback themed concepts—Wink’s Cheeseburger Factory, DaddyO Diner, the Hotdoggery, and Montana SteakBurgers—in 2008.

Spadaro started Mr. Goodburgers in 2000 with Wes Zane, but less than five years later the business built on creating healthy, animal-free fast food went belly up.

“I have been told many times I was ahead of my time,” Spadaro says. “We gave it our best. We put a heck of a lot of effort and time and money into it. Some concepts work, some concepts don’t. No regrets whatsoever.”

Despite the setback, Spadaro refused to quit. Heeding Winston Churchill’s famous advice to never give in, he’s drawing on the lessons he learned from that endeavor in hopes of making his new team’s project a success.

One mistake he’s not making this time is focusing on a limited market. Vegans and vegetarians, the target consumers for Mr. Goodburgers, make up only a small percentage of the U.S. population. With menus anchored by meat products at all four Restaurant-in-a-Box concepts, the company hopes to appeal to a broader consumer base.

But even in switching to meat offerings, Spadaro hasn’t completely strayed from his original healthy roots. The burger concepts will serve only grass-fed, range-raised beef products, and franks and sausages will be grilled fresh.

“We will support the humane practices, the elimination of trans fats, and things of that nature, so our stores will be healthier,” Spadaro explains. “Healthier fare is absolutely possible to achieve today, serving meat products that don’t have all the rubbish in them.”

While all four concepts share whimsical themes, each will have an entirely different style. The company describes DaddyO Diner as “an art deco ‘Celebration of Diners and Drive-ins and the Burgers that Built ’Em’”; Wink’s Cheeseburger Factory will allow patrons to choose from a variety of cheeses to top their burgers; the Hotdoggery will espouse an early-to-mid century baseball theme and serve regional favorite hot dogs; and Montana SteakBurgers is set to feature flame-grilled steakburgers, steaks, and beer in a Western saloon atmosphere. DaddyO Diner, Wink’s, and the Hotdoggery will be counter-order establishments, while Montana SteakBurgers will be a casual eatery.

In developing these concepts, the Restaurant-in-a-Box team hopes to fill a niche in the restaurant marketplace.

With menus anchored by meat products at all four Restaurant-in-a-Box concepts, the company hopes to appeal to a broader consumer base.

“We’ve focused on creating exciting brands that stand out in an overcrowded market,” Spadaro says. “That’s been our first and foremost goal as we’ve listened to what people want.”

Even the buildings that house the restaurants will look different from most restaurant concepts. DaddyO will embrace the exaggerated Googie architecture of the 1950s and ’60s with a drive-in-themed building; Montana SteakBurgers is designed to look like a 19th century saloon; the Hotdoggery draws its architectural inspiration from classic hot dog stands; and Wink’s Cheeseburger factory is a throwback to roadside architecture, with its monolithic dome building designed to look like a giant cheeseburger.

“There’s just too much of the same-old, same-old,” Spadaro says. “We’ve heard people—developers, operators—they want difference. They want something different. Everything is Starbuck-atized. Our stores are not.”

In some cases, these innovative designs are as much about function as they are form. The dome structure of Wink’s, which can also be applied to any of the four concepts, is fire-, hurricane-, tornado-, and earthquake-proof, and termite-resistant. As an Energy Star-certified design, it can also save up to 42 percent on energy costs, Spadaro says.

Restaurant-in-a-Box plans to have flagship restaurants open sometime next year. And though Spadaro says there are no plans to sell franchises, he doesn’t rule out the possibility in the future.

“There are great teams out there that need investment vehicles to advance, to grow,” he says. “Teambuilding is key. We want to venture with the right teams.”