Earlier this year, BurgerBusiness.com shared data from NPD Group showing that even as the total number of U.S. restaurants declined by 1.1% in 2011, the number of burger restaurants grew. And recently we listed more than three-dozen significant new burger-joint openings in 2012. The burger business keeps growing, and the 13 brands detailed below are among the drivers of that growth. These are small concepts but ones that are adding locations. I haven’t included the growing chains we all know about—such as Bagger Dave’s, Burger 21, Epic Burger, Elevation, Smashburger and the others. Below are 13 concepts you may have missed but that are worth watching because they show what’s happening now in burgers (such as offering craft beers) or because they just might be in your market before you know it.
Flip Side, Hudson, Ohio
This concept is quickly jumping around Ohio, opening first in Hudson and then Columbus with a third location coming in Chagrin Falls in northeast Ohio. The burgers are 7-oz. of Ohio-raised grass-fed beef. The signature Flipside Burger gets 2-year aged Cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, charred balsamic vinegar, red onion and a house barbecue sauce on a brioche bun for $9. The $15 Meat Master Burger doubles the beef. For The Fire Starter, the beef is soaked in house-made hot sauce, dusted with ancho chili powder rub, grilled and topped with two pieces of aged pepper Jack, pickled jalapeňos. House-cooked chips dressed in secret sauce come on the side.
Big Smoke Burger and Gourmet Burger Co., both Toronto
Toronto has become one of the hottest markets for fresh burger concepts in North America (see The Works, South St. Burgers, The Burger’s Priest, Gangster Burger and many others). Both Big Smoke (which began as Craft Burger) and GBC are looking to expand beyond Toronto via franchising. GBC has added a fifth unit; Big Smoke’s sixth is in a Hwy 400 travel stop. GBC’s $6.95 Spicy Cajun burger has lettuce, tomato, avocado, jalapeňos, jalapeňo Havarti cheese, Cajun spice and smokey chipotle-honey mayo. The signature Big Smoke Burger is a 6-oz. organic beef patty with horseradish mayo, caramelized onions, smoked Cheddar, tomato and lettuce.
Farm Burger, Georgia
Farm Burger, which opened location No. 3 in Dunwoody, Ga., this year, is one branch of an extended culinary family tree. The core is Farm 255, a local/seasonal/sustainable restaurant in Athens, Ga. Its owners also operate Full Moon Farms, a cooperative of fruit and vegetable farms, and Moonshine Meats, a collective of pasture-based cow and pig ranchers. Then there’s Farm Burger, which provides an outlet for its own grass-fed beef. Build your own burger, starting at $6.75 for beef (with chicken and veggie/quinoa patties available, too), or choose one of the house builds. The $8 signature Farm Burger has aged Vermont white Cheddar, caramelized onions and house FB sauce; the Vietnamese-influenced Banh Mi Burger has pickled carrots, daikon radish, jalapeňos, cilantro, chili mayo and house-made pork pate for $10. The buy-local philosophy extends to the beer list and there’s wine as well.
Joe’s Burgers, Portland, Ore.
Joe’s recently opened its fourth location, this near Portland State University, which is perfect for this no-frills, campus-friendly concept. The Joe’s Burger is $4.25 for one all-natural Oregon beef patty;$5.75 for a double. The menu also has hot dogs, fries, rings and chili cheese fries. At the downtown unit there’s beer and choice of Joe’s Cabernet or Joe’s Pinot Gris.
El Corral, South Florida
A concept that describes itself as “one of Colombia’s most highly respected casual dining restaurant chains” will open its first U.S. location in 2013 in Doral, Fla. A second location reportedly has already been slotted for Coconut Grove, Fla. According to its Facebook page, El Corral’s menu includes the Corralisima, a half-pound char-grilled Angus beef patty with lettuce, tomato, onion and barbecue sauce; the Corral Todoterraeno with two quarter-pound Angus patties, bacon, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and barbecue sauce; and a Philadelphia Steak sandwich with grilled beef loin, grilled onions, American cheese and mayo.
Eureka! Gourmet Burgers & Craft Beer, Southern California
A fifth location is open in Santa Barbara and more SoCal openings are planned. From the name it’s obvious this concept hits the sweet spots of the category: upscale burgers and small-brewery beers. Burgers are all-natural, hormone-free Angus chuck. Prices start at $9.25 for The Original Eureka! Burger. There’s a Catalina Bison Burger ($14.95) and Fig Marmalade Burger ($10.95). The menu also boasts pulled pork, grilled chicken and shrimp po’boy sandwiches. Dozens of beers are on tap at the bar.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Austin, Texas
Hopdoddy is a local fave in Austin, where it has two locations. Will the magic transfer to Dallas, where it opened this year? Early signs are good. The Angus beef’s all-natural, hormone free and ground in-store. The Classic is Angus beef with red leaf lettuce, white onion, Beefsteak tomato and house Sassy Sauce. The menu also has a burger with Texas Akaushi beef (a Japanese breed) along with lamb, bison, turkey and sushi-grade tuna burgers. Lots of beers, wines and cocktails complete the concept.
Red Robin’s Burger Works, Colorado and beyond
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers opened the first Burger Works a year ago to test the efficiency of a smaller-size, smaller-staff, lower-price concept. Five are open, primarily in college settings, and the chain says it intends to open another five in 2013. The Tavern Double burger that’s $6.99 (with Bottomless Steak Fries) at regular Red Robins is $4.99 at Burger Works. And $1 more makes it a triple. No beer or bar.
Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar, Phoenix
Fox Restaurant Group in Phoenix created the Zinburger concept in 2007, opening one location in Phoenix and two in Tucson. In February 2012, Fox announced a licensing agreement with The Briad Group, giving it (a TGI Friday’s franchisee) rights to develop Zinburgers in 23 states east of the Mississippi. Two have opened in New Jersey, and more are to come. Fox plans to open more in the other states. The $10 Zinburger is Certified Angus Beef with Manchego cheese, braised onions and mayo. There’s also a $15 Kobe Burger with Cheddar, wild mushrooms and mayo, a $9 Turkey Sloppy Joe, a $12 Breakfast Burger with a fried egg, Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon, avocado, American cheese and mayo. The concept offers a full bar with cocktails, 18 wines by glass, and 17 beer selections (eight on tap).
b. good, Boston
Anthony Ackil and Jon Olinto opened the first b. good in 2004, and nine locations (as of early December) are open. But a push into franchising could further spread the brand, which positions itself as “real. food. fast.” The beef’s local, all natural and ground in-house. Other options include turkey or veggie patties or chicken and all proteins can be prepared in one of several signature styles. Ask for it “El Guapo” and get bacon, house-made jalapeňo-ranch dressing, lettuce, tomato and onion. “West Side” brings avocado, cilantro, tomato and house chipotle salsa.
Little Big Burger, Portland, Ore.
A bare-bones concept that has quietly opened five units in Portland and another in Eugene. Burgers are a quarter-pound of Cacade natural beef; buns, cheeses and even the ketchup are locally sourced. Burgers are $3.25; add 50¢ for cheese, 25¢ more for a veggie patty. Fries, soda, floats and a few craft beers complete it.
Blazing Onion Burger Co., Seattle
With last month’s opening in Marysville, Wash., Blazing Onion has five locations in the state. The menu has more than two dozen burger choices, including the standard all-natural Painted Hills ground beef chuck plus lamb, bison and wild boar. The $9.49 Garlic Meatloaf Burger grills slices of house-made meatloaf and stacks it with leaf lettuce, garlic mayo, fried onion straws and house-made sweet-tangy glaze on an onion-cheese kaiser. The chain has gotten some media attention recently for its in-store testing of iPads for ordering.
Obviously 13 is an arbitrary and year-appropriate cutoff. The burger category is alive and interesting and growing, and there are many more brands you’ll be hearing more from. One, certainly, is Relish Gourmet Burgers, the New Brunswick-based chain that will enter the U.S. in 2013. It was profiled in BurgerBusiness.com in October. Others including Blu Burger Grille, BurgerFi, Burger Girl, Burger Lounge, Edzo’s and many more. 2013 is going to be another great year for the burger business!