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11 Burger Chains to Watch in 2011

Despite scurrilous predictions the burger boom would run out of steam, it hasn’t. Five Guys, Elevation Burger, The Counter, Umami Burger, Smashburger, Shake Shack, Bobby’s Burger Palace and others weren’t on the map a few years ago but now they’re booming, opening outside their original markets and spreading.
         There’s no reason to suspect this pattern won’t continue. To prove it, here are 11 burger concepts worth watching in 2011 because they’re riding the crest of the burger business’s next wave .

Jake’s Wayback Burgers; based in Cheshire, Conn.; 21 units open. The place began nearly two decades ago as Jake’s but “Wayback” was added this year (at Mr. Peabody’s insistence?)  to fit its retro style. There’s a Burger of the Month (a potato chip-topped Crunchy Peppercorn Burger this month) and a changed-monthly shake (egg nog). For November it offered a Turkey Dinner Burger (a turkey burger topped with cranberry sauce and stuffing) and Pumpkin Pie shake.

Burguesa Burger; Dallas; 3 units. If McDonald’s married Taco Bell, Burguesa Burger would be their offspring. The creation of Jeff Sinelli, who earlier developed the Genghis Grill and Which Wich chains, Burguesa Burger’s signature item, La Monumental, combines two beef patties, two slices of cheese, ham, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, refried beans, crunchy tostada, and a creamy sauce on a sesame-seed bun, topped with a whole jalapeño.

BGR The Burger Joint; Lansdowne, Va.; 4 units. A fave in the D.C. area, this concept is spreading out fast. Upcoming locations are in Mobile, Ala.; Columbia, Md.; Clemson, S.C.; Arlington, Va.; Springfield, Va. Check out the Cuban Burger topped with slow roasted pork, Serrano ham, sweet pickles, Dijon mustard and Swiss on a brioche bun and grill pressed.

Original 5 Napkin Burger

◙ 5 Napkin Burger; New York City; 3 units. New York’s beloved burger joint is invading Red Sox territory with a location in Boston’s Prudential Center opening this winter. The menu goes on beyond burgers to include a foot-long Kobe beef hot dog and lobster-roll sliders.

Burger Lounge; San Diego; 4 units. This champion of grass-fed beef has a spare menu: one beef, one turkey and one veg burger plus salads, fries and panko-coated onion rings that have won plaudits from Rachael Ray’s magazine.

Mooyah Burgers & Fries; Frisco, Texas; 17 units. Mooiyah is about to open out side Texas with an impending location in Knoxville, Tenn. But it has its sights set much higher: The chain claims to have signed multi-unit development agreements that will add 221 units. The basic Mooyah burger is a double-patty creation. Points for that.


Blanc Burgers + Bottles; Leawood, Kan.; 3 units. Three locations in three states (Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska) is some sort of record. A fourth location/state in Little Rock, Ark., is under consideration. The winner of the 2010 BurgerBusiness Burger Brackets is definitely worth watching.

Cheeseburger Bobby’s; Kennesaw, Ga.; 5 units. Worth watching because it’s an old-school, hand-pattied-burgers concept. There’s nothing off the wall here, but there’s everything you’d want when you’re hungry for a good burger.


Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar; Scottsdale, Ariz.; 3 units. This Fox Restaurant Concepts brand just opened in Clifton, N.J., an unlikely third step after Phoenix and Tucson. But that indicates Fox might keep going, opening more outside its Southwest territory. The signature Zinburger is Angus or Kobe beef topped with Manchego cheese, Zinfandel-braised onions and mayo.

Twisted Root Burger Co.; Dallas; 5 units. What was once Dallas’ favorite upscale burger joint has grown into a five-unit chain. All are in Texas, but it wouldn’t be surprising if TRBC goes wide. Burgers are half-pounders and a mix of brisket and chuck.

Epic Burger; Chicago; 2 units. Worth keeping an eye on because this is how all successful burger joints will operate in the future: With all-natural meat that’s never frozen, hand-formed and cooked to order and fresh-cut and fresh-cooked fries.

12 Responses to 11 Burger Chains to Watch in 2011

  1. Looks like the expansion in this category is certainly expanding. Also watch Five Guys out of the Washington, DC area.

    All these up and coming operators should, before growing too big, be sure their brand stories and brand differentiators are rock solid to ensure long term sustainability.

    Tom Kelley
    Concept Branding Group
    San Diego

  2. Terry Smith

    It is hard to find a better burger than at Five Guys. They are a rapidly expanding franchise and very consistant where ever you go. They keep it simple and excellent with a side of fabulous fries.

  3. Charlie Zupsic

    Besides focusing on the ingredients (e.g. fresh meat, different toppings) some of these new concepts are also looking at HOW they cook the burger. Umami switched to the Evo flattop to get a better sear, which helped them get designated the #1 burger in America by GQ Magazine.

  4. Christian Hanrahan

    I agree with Mr. Smith… there is little better than 5 guys, except the fries, mediocre in my book, particularly the cajun fries, which seem like they are seasoned only with old bay. My only complaint about the burgers is that they do not come in IV bags for quick delivery

  5. Todd Murray

    Actually, I’m lucky living in the DFW area. We have at least 2 Five Guys in the area now also. Of the three mentioned in this article, I prefer Mooyah. Of the two, 5 Guys or Mooyah, again Mooyah wins as being slightly jucier. BUT, that comes down to personal preference because in a blind taste test I doubt anyone could tell them apart as the francises are almost clones. I would bet the founders of Mooyah made more then one trip to the original Five Guys

  6. Michael Decker

    Ahhhhh, but all of these concepts will eventually fall prey to the burger’s worst nightmare — the gourmet hot dog — as presented by The New England Hot Dog Company… One of GMA’s hottest food trends for 2011 — the gourmet sausage and dog. Come. Sit. Eat. Good Dog!

  7. Adam Steinman

    While I certainly respect these choices for excellent burger joints, I am forced to bring up another: Burger Bar by chef Hubert Keller. Yes, it is more of a sit down restaurant, but the burgers, sides, and shakes all echo Kellers fine dining and quality standards in a very casual/sports bar like atmosphere. One of the best burgers that I’ve ever had…

  8. admin

    Yes. You’ll enjoy the BurgerBusiness Interview with Herbert Keller!

  9. Greg

    I remember Ollie’s Trolley, had the best burgers and now defunct. They were all over run by J. Y. Brown of KFC fame. Dont count on these being any more than also rans.
    Great regional stuff and fun to visit places it seems. Fast food is fast food.

  10. Tyson

    Not a fan of Five Guys, they are not a true fast casual chain, they just price pointed themselves into that category. Fries are soggy and the burger leaves you feeling nasty after you eat it, like a gut bomb. I would be interested in trying Mooyah burger, however right now I belive Smashburger is one of the chains to watch out for, their burgers are really good!!!

  11. elliet monty

    Five Guys stinks big time. Maybe the original place is good but the location in Colorado Springs is abysmal. Tried them twice and both times the fries were first so cold I think a couple were still frozen; took them back. Next batch was so greasy and again undercooked; just tossed them. Also, both times, the burgers might have been shuttled across the street from the McDonald’s — tasteless rounds of ‘beef’ that really did not deserve to be called a burger.

  12. Sally

    Check out a Burger place in Coconut Creek, Fl called 160 Degrees. The best part about them is not only do they have good burgers they have Phillys, Muffulettas and to die for fresh chopped salads.