Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.

QSR Interview | By Sherri Daye Scott

‘Fine Dining Between Two Buns’

Really what I want to emphasize, even more so than the creativity, is that we’re within the price point of all the fast-casual establishments.

You are competing with Five Guys. Quite honestly, there is no competition as far as quality.

I have a Five Guys near my house. It’s a neat concept, but it’s burger and fries that you can get a couple of different toppings on, and we’re nothing like that.

I have had burgers from New York to L.A., Chicago to Atlanta. I’ve been all over the country eating whatever is the best burger or best concept in all these cities, and no one is doing this, no one is approaching it this way.

Whether it’s Five Guys or The Counter, those guys are saying, “Hey, this is our burger and you get these toppings on it. You can mix and match, do whatever you want.” That’s pretty much the extent of it. Some creativity, but not really. A lot of, “Aw, it’s just a burger. Let’s not play around too much with it.”

I love that they do a sauce at some of these places. It’s their “special secret sauce,” and it’s like well, “Thousand island dressing isn’t really that special,” you know?

We played around with stuff like that, too. But what we’re doing is definitely more risky, and we’ll see what the response is.

We’re not that dive, you know? We’re hip, we’re casual, but we’re fun.

How, especially with food prices fluctuating, are you able to keep prices in the fast-casual range when you have veal on the menu? Right now we’re eating a lot of it. We were willing to from the beginning of the concept. Take our food cost budget. It’s 34 percent. I’m going to guess that most of these other concepts are, are in the mid- to high-20s. We’ll get there just based on volume, based on the fact that we continue to work on our prices and the more we grow, the better.

Our classic burger at $6.50 with a proprietary grind. We have someone who is actually doing a grind that is the Flip grind. The cost is pretty high for us, and at 34 percent those are fine-dining food costs. So, yeah, we’re eating it a little bit in the beginning because we want to make sure that we’re offering quality. If it’s not good then you’re not going to fill the restaurant up anyway.

A steak restaurant doesn’t make money off its steaks. It makes its money off the baked potatoes. That’s really where a restaurant like this is going to capitalize on its percentages and stuff: french fries and onion rings.

And soft drinks? And soft drinks. Exactly! We’re fine with that. Give them the burger for $6 or $7.

Speaking of beverages, you went all out on your milkshakes. It’s the world’s first nitrogen milkshake bar. I’ve been playing with nitrogen for four or five years now. I am one of the only few dozen chefs in the country that has been experimenting with it. You’re talking about maybe two or three chefs in the Southeast who even have it in their kitchen.

We make all of our ice cream with the nitrogen and that enables us to make ice cream without an ice cream machine. We just need blenders and Kitchen Aids and mixers. It makes the ice cream so quick that we don’t really have to hold the ice cream in a freezer for any amount of time, which is great. We’re making it and basically spinning it fresh everyday. It’s super quick so you are getting these ice creams and shakes that don’t have any ice crystals in them. When ice cream sits in the freezer, it gets that frost on it. We don’t have to worry about that.

As we’re finishing the shake, we pour a little bit of nitrogen on top. It creates many different textures. You have the smooth milky texture where it’s almost frozen. We’re using it with the cocktails as well so we’re mixing it with martinis and stuff like that.

And we actually use nitrogen with our french fries which is, I think, the most fascinating use for it right now because the more we play with nitrogen, we find new uses for it and one is in the life of a french fry in this restaurant. A potato comes in this restaurant. It spends three days going through various “spa treatments.” This potato is most likely from Idaho. It’s been stressed out. It’s been in a warehouse for a year, and we have to refresh it. Really, I’m trying to be funny about saying “spa” but it goes through a lot of different things that you might go through if you go to the spa. It sits in this cool water bath for 48 hour.

Why the bath? It takes away some of the starch from the potato. Potatoes are harvested once a year. They sit in a cooler for a whole year so their starch gets all messed up, and they’re really stressed out. We need to get the sugar and starch right so they sit in the water for 48 hours. Then from there, we cook them really low, at 200 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes so that the fries cook all the way through. From there, they get dipped in the nitrogen. The nitrogen biogenically flash freezes them. And a lot of prepared fruits are being treated like that, just no one is out there saying, “Hey your fries have been flash frozen and fish sticks have been dipped in nitrogen.” Then I freeze them real quick so we have this super soft potato that can cook all the way through. When you order, we fry them.

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