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Ones to Watch | By Judy Kneiszel

Cheeseburger Bobby’s
Cheeseburger Bobby’s offers its guests a burger bar with more than one million burger topping combinations available.

The founders of Cheeseburger Bobby’s know consumers have a lot of choices, so they are always searching for ways to stand out from the crowd. The Build Your Own Burger Bar is one of those ways.

While the condiment bar includes the expected ketchup, pickle slices, and yellow mustard, it goes beyond burger basics to include spicy brown mustard, A1 Steaksauce, Texas Pete Hot Sauce, two types of lettuce, two types of onions, peppers, sweet relish, spicy relish, fresh tomatoes—locally grown when possible—and locally sourced Georgia Vidalia onions in season. 

“The burgers come out plain because not everyone agrees how a burger should be dressed,” says Cheeseburger Bobby’s vice president and cofounder Richard Stoll. “We leave it up to the guests. They get to control what goes on their burger, and the combinations are endless. In fact, a college student working for us calculated that there are more than a million ways to dress a burger at the Build Your Own Burger Bar.” 

Stoll and his brother Robert started the Georgia chain in 2007. 

“We both believed there was an opportunity to create a truly exceptional hamburger concept,” Stoll says. “We wanted to take freshness, cleanliness, and service to new levels.”

To meet that freshness goal, burgers are hand-pattied from fresh beef, and fries are hand-cut on site twice a day. 

While the menu extends to hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and grilled cheese (on the kids menu), 85 percent of Cheeseburger Bobby’s customers order burgers.

“Because we feel your burger should never be waiting for you, everything is cooked to order and we rally behind not having a drive thru,” Stoll says. 

Stoll says any time lost in cooking to order is made up when customers top their own burgers.

“People either order a burger with fries or a burger with onion rings,” he says. “There’s no ‘hold the onions’ or ‘give me extra pickles,’ because customers are choosing their condiments at the bar. It simplifies the back-of-house operations.”

There are five Cheeseburger Bobby’s locations in Georgia, and the company plans to grow in a spider web around Atlanta and throughout the Southeast.

“We have three new locations planned for this year,” Stoll says.

An average store is 1,800–2,500 square feet.

The first Cheeseburger Bobby’s opened in late 2007. Two more followed in 2008 and one each in 2009 and, so far, 2010. While 2007 may not have been an optimum year to start a business, Stoll says every store had positive sales growth in the last year and great deals can be negotiated for restaurant space right now. On the flip side, it’s “a huge challenge getting prospective franchisees financing.”

Stoll says when he and his brother conceived the concept, they had franchising in mind and incorporated systems to assist franchisees. “Robert and I were operators first before we were franchisors,” he says. “We know the daily grind of the restaurant business.”

Stoll says they’d like to keep the mix at about 80 percent franchise stores and 20 percent corporate. 

“We plan to open more company-owned stores because we want to experience the same success or failure as franchisees,” he says. 

CHEESEBURGER BOBBY'S

FOUNDERS: Robert and Richard Stoll

HQ: Kennesaw, Georgia

YEAR STARTED: 2007

ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed

TOTAL UNITS: 5

FRANCHISE UNITS: 4  

www.cheeseburgerbobbys.com

Though growth has been slower than anticipated, Stoll says the company tries to “separate challenges into those we can control and those we can’t.” One factor they can control is providing superior customer service.

“Our guests are getting pounded with different marketing messages every day,” Stoll says. “To cut through the clutter, we do unique things so they go out and tell their friends.”

That service includes topping off diners’ fries, getting them drink refills, or offering mints.

“Guests are totally taken aback by it,” Stoll says. 

Another customer service and marketing task employees perform is to offer customers free samples of frozen custard, since many Southerners are unfamiliar with the rich ice cream–like dessert.

“We have a log book in our stores and employees enter anything extra they do for guests,” Stoll says. “For example, at one store a mom hosting a birthday party forgot candles, so an employee went across the street to get some. It’s fun to read stories like that.”

Stoll says that to execute that level of service during peak hours, stores have to add an extra staff person.

“In our stores on a Friday night, eight employees will be working with one dedicated just to service,” he says. “In that way we see ourselves as kind of a hybrid between casual dining and fast food.”

A burger, fries, and drink go for about $8 at Cheeseburger Bobby’s—slightly higher than a typical fast food meal.

“But unlike casual dining, it’s a no-tipping environment, so we’re not tacking on 15–20 percent,” Stoll says. “And with the kids menu, a family of four can get out for $24. In this economy, we see ourselves as quite fortunate to be in the space we are: affordable dining.”