Cheeburger Cheeburger has nailed its niche as a retro 1950s-1960s malt shop and burger joint with food cooked to order, becoming famous for quality and freshness. As Barbara Kram reports, a modern supply chain ensures good old-fashioned flavor.
Let’s say you’re stuck in an airport. How does a certified premium grain-fed, never-frozen black angus burger sound? You want an Edy’s Grand ice cream shake and Idaho russet fries with that?
There is only one place to get it: Cheeburger Cheeburger, the soda fountain-style restaurant chain that specializes in everything on a burger (“no cheese, no extra charge”) along with hand-cut fries and batter-dipped onion rings. The store’s décor with neon lights, retro signs and posters, and doo-wop music completes the throw-back feel.
No, the name doesn’t come from the late-night TV comedy show, although they do have the Pepsi contract. The company was founded by Bruce Zicari who opened a restaurant on Sanibel Island off the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1986. Corporate headquarters today is in nearby Ft. Myers. A marketing person came up with the iconic name.
“It started with one store and from day one it was a major hit and we’ve grown from there,” says Marketing Director Bob Wright. Of Mr. Zicari, Wright says, “He is the visionary and keeper of the flame. It’s very easy for a franchise over 20 years to lose its way.”
Instead Cheeburger, Cheeburger has found its way by remaining the same company as when it started. Customers have taken notice.
“We don’t really seek out new franchisees or run advertisements. They seek us. Most are customers who become fanatical about us.”
A combination of critical factors sets the chain apart. “We have an unswerving dedication to serving very high quality food, cooked in a very simple way, and we never deviate from that. The way we started is the same way we are today. We have some new menu items but remain dedicated to our core items,” he said. “We are the authority when it comes to a gourmet burger, along with fries, rings and shakes – no one can beat us.”
The family-friendly restaurant is perfect for people who want value but don’t want to eat fast food.
The menu features the Famous Pounder, actually 20 ounces of fresh beef before cooking. Customers who actually finish one are photographed for the Wall of Fame. Less ambitious guests choose the 14-ounce Delirious burger, 10-ounce Serious, or the most popular size, the seven-ounce Semi-Serious. These can be cooked medium, medium well or well; children’s orders are well done.
The burger is just the beginning as customers choose from many free toppings to invent creations from traditional to adventurous. It begins with cheese, of course: American, cheddar, provolone, Swiss, or bleu; then pile on sauces and condiments from pickles and onions to peanut butter and banana peppers. Specialty toppings include grilled portobello mushrooms and sautéed onions. Salads (side or meal) are also available using the create-your-own approach with grilled chicken, sun dried tomatoes, cranberries, baby corn, and any number of add-ons.
But the fun has just begun because the chain also specializes in blended premium Edy’s Grand ice cream shakes with nearly any type of candy, nuts, fruits, and flavors mixed in. There are 378,000 flavor combinations.
You can’t go there without ordering the famous fries and onion rings cooked in cholesterol-free peanut oil. These are served with signature dipping sauces such as Texas horseradish, chili lime, creamy jalapeno (not too hot) and others. Kids’ meals and desserts round out the menu and retro T-shirts and fun collectibles are also sold at the stores, along with the brand’s secret sauces, seasonings, and onion ring batter.
DEMANDING THE SUPPLY
In many ways, this nostalgic brand is ahead of its time. The company’s fastidious control of its food supply chain in particular inspires confidence from franchisees while providing freshness that is really the competitive edge.
Cheeburger Cheeburger is a large small chain, if you will. The size has resulted in the benefits of both cost and quality control. The unique supply chain structure revolves around a master agreement with SYSCO for pricing and distribution of everything from chemicals to paper to food. However, Cheeburger Cheeburger is one of few national concepts with a single source for the core items on the menu (beef, potatoes, and dairy products used in milk shakes). These ingredients are carefully sourced through individual contracts with each manufacturer, negotiated by the company for franchisees. The benefits include inventory control, economies of scale, and quality consistency. The exclusive and proprietary arrangements with top U.S. ranchers and growers also ensure the All-American taste of the meal.
“We have a primary single source for our ground beef that ensures safety and product quality,” explains Jeffrey Jablow, Director of Training and Menu Development, “Rather than buying through major beef processing plants, we buy from a single farm.”
The company’s beef comes from Creekstone Farms, Arkansas City, Kan. “Not only is it a premium black angus product, and only a black angus product, but our beef is never frozen. It is processed and within 24 hours put right on trucks and into distribution.”
As you may know, the black angus designation is something as carefully protected as a race horse’s lineage. Cheeburger Cheeburger uses only the best in this prized breed of cattle, designated certified premium. The company far exceeds government requirements for food safety.
“We genetically document the fact that it is a true black angus breed. Most companies will use the term ‘black angus’ just to indicate there is black on the hide. That’s not black angus but the government allows that description to be used more broadly,” Jablow says. “Ours are genetically documented, certified, come from a single source; we know what they’ve been fed, how they are raised. There is never an issue as to where that meat comes from.”
Potatoes also come from a single, exclusive supplier, ensuring consistent quality. In fact, most restaurants run out of prized Idaho Burbank potatoes, which are best for fries, around July. But Cheeburger Cheeburger’s exclusive contract with its grower ensures a year-round supply of the prized spuds.
“By having a dedicated source, we contract for millions of pounds of potatoes grown for us exclusively so we don’t run out and have a consistent product year round. We are selling the same potato in July and August as in November and December at beginning of harvest,” he notes.
Adding to the freshness and quality of the meal, all baked goods and produce come from local suppliers near each franchise. “We use local bakeries in every city to ensure a fresh product delivered seven days a week,” Jablow stresses.
But these are challenging times for any chain, given consumers’ belt tightening and increased fuel costs. The Cheeburger Cheeburger model is designed to absorb the shock for its franchisees.
“We do two things: The contracts we negotiate are a set price including the freight [charge] so it’s equally shared among all our franchisees. If you are in the Northeast you are going to pay the same price for our product as an individual store might pay out in Las Vegas,” Jablow says. “Obviously it’s a challenge, especially in one-offs, areas of the country where we may only have one or two restaurants. In larger markets we can order more product so the shipping is less expensive. But with our distribution plan no one is penalized for being in a new growth area versus a high growth area. We take a national average, work with the manufacturer, and build that in so at the end of the day everybody wins.”
Rounding out its main suppliers is Edy’s Grand Ice Cream.
The Cheeburger Cheeburger concept maintains its popularity even in today’s difficult market in terms of the U.S. economy. It’s been a tough few years in this category and in 2008 those challenges continue. This is not fast food. The stores have table service in a quick casual concept.
“We work hard to stimulate the customer and give them more value on the plate, that’s our approach to the economy and the difficulties and challenges that we have all had over the last couple of years,” Wright says.
Franchises continue to expand coast to coast with restaurants located from New York to California; one just opened in Las Vegas, and will open in Texas soon. Cheeburger Cheeeburger has 65 U.S. stores to date with about 10 more coming by the end of the year. Many franchisees have multiple stores and plan to open more.