A recent BurgerBusiness post questioned whether burger-category entrepreneurship is flagging, given a perceived decline in the number of new burger concepts opening this year. I continue to believe that’s true, but I also know that expansion by small and/or young chains has picked up steam. Burgers remain strong. Gathered here are 17 burger concepts that may have been growing beneath your radar. However, each is opening stores and all are worth knowing about. After all, they may open across the street from you in 2017.
This is the 7th annual roundup of up-and-coming chains, so I’ve likely already covered some of the other fast growers that will come to your mind. Links to the lists for 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013 are here. Here’s to a strong 2017 for the burger business.
BILL’S BAR AND BURGER
This urbane bistro concept already has expanded beyond its New York City origins with locations in Pittsburgh and Atlantic City. But Bill’s parent, multiconcept operator BR Guest Hospitality was acquired last month by Houston-based restaurant behemoth Landry’s Inc. The new owners have plenty of capital to take Bill’s across the country if it wants, and it would be foolish not to do it. The burgers are a custom Pat LaFrieda blend that’s ground fresh. The $19.95 (NYC price) Steakhouse Burger is an 8-oz. patty with bacon-shallot Marmalade, onion mayo and Swiss cheese on a pretzel bun.
BURGER & BEER JOINT
I spoke with BBJ CEO Bill Herman earlier this year about the concept’s growth plans. Currently there are six Florida units plus a San Juan, P.R. franchise and Philadelphia. A new design will be used for a Washington, D.C. opening early in 2017 that will be a little less classic rock and more adult. The menu’s buzz-worthy offering is the 10-lb. Motherburger. No one has ever finished one.
After opening the first location in Riverside, Calif., in 2011, owner Mo Farha launched an invasion of Southern California with his create-your-own-burger concept. It moved into Orange County this summer with a Mission Viejo unit and followed with a Lake Forest location. A Cypress, Calif., stores should open this month and Tustin and Newport Beach are set for early 2017 debuts. Build a burger to suit, starting with choice of all-natural, grass-fed beef chuck, cage-free chicken breast, natural ground turkey breast or house-made black bean patty.
Another burger concept with unexpected ownership, Burger Theory is being incorporated into new and existing Holiday Inn locations, as BurgerBusiness.com reported earlier this. Year. Since 2014 the hotel chain has opened Burger Theory restaurants in several major markets, including Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, Omaha, Phoenix and Tampa. The menu offers both build-your-own or signature burgers, plus breakfast, of course (it’s a hotel concept).
If you’re Italian and you love burgers, surfing and Australia, Burger Wave is your place. Six of the laid-back, surf-board-adorned burger bars are open; the newest, in Assago, Italy, is in the works. Black Angus burgers include the Kombat Wombat with grilled halloumi cheese, harissa, fresh tomatoes and herb mayo. Chicken, lamb and veggie burgers are offered as well.
THE COWFISH SUSHI BURGER BAR
The idea of combining burger and menu sushi menus in one concept began as a joke, but the Charlotte, N.C., concept has plans for a fifth location—this in Birmingham, Ala.—in the summer of 2017. Burgers are half-pound CAB, served with a choice of side (including Edamame and fried pickles). The $15 Granny’s Southern Pimento Cheese Burger has house-made pimento cheese, fried green tomato, jalapeňo bacon, red onion, lettuce and Duke’s mayo on marbled rye.
This full-service casual-dining concept is styled to look like a 1920’s service station, with vintage Fords as décor. That’s because the chain is an official licensee of Ford Motor Co. Current locations include three in the Fort Myers, Fla., area, with three more Florida and a 13,200-square-foot Dearborn, Mich., location in process. The $11.95 Ford’s Signature burger has the stand 9-oz. Black Angus beef patty with aged harp Cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, bourbon BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion rings on brioche.
FRIENDS & BRGRS
The Finnish chain made news earlier this year when it raised 1 million € through online investment platform Invesdor. The chain plans to open two to three locations annually in Scandinavia and beyond.
JACK BROWN’S BEER & BURGER JOINT
Based in Harrisonburg, Va., Jack Brown’s has quietly become a major player in the Southeast. The recently opened Mufreesboro, Tenn., unit is the chain’s ninth and fifth opening in the past two years. The concept: 100% Natural Wagyu beef, Yukon gold fries, deep-fried Oreos and more than 100 beers in stock at all times. The Showalter, served on Sundays only, has beef, bacon, egg and cheese on a glazed doughnut.
Seattle’s Japanese-fusion burger bar is opening a fourth location in the city this month. The $8.95 Godzilla Attack burger is grass-fed beef katsu, pepper-Jack cheese, 12-spice blend, jalapeňos, spicy may and tonkatsu sauce. Sides include wasabi slaw and sea salt, curry or nori (seaweed) fries.
KKATIE’S BURGER BAR
Already open in Plymouth and Marshfield, Mass., KKatie’s opened in Quincy, Mass., in the fall, followed by a Hyannis, Mass., opening. Burgers are fresh Angus half-pounder. The signature $10.99 Big KKMac tops the beef with Cheddar-Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and KKatie’s special sauce on a grilled sesame-seed bun.
Like Friends & Brgrs, British chain Meatcure is using crowdfunding to raise expansion capital. It hopes to raise £350,000 via the Seedrs platform. The first opened Market Harborough in 2014; others followed in Leicester and Leamington Spa. Bedford opened recently and Hinckley should open early in 2017. The 9.75 Smokey and the Bandit Burger has a 7-oz. beef patty, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon, caramelized onion, house-made mayo and Mother Sauce on brioche.
NEXT LEVEL BURGER
Owners Matt and Cierra de Gruyter are opening the third location of their 100% plant-based-burger concept in a 365 by Whole Foods Market prototype in Lake Oswego, Ore. The original restaurant is in Bend, Ore.; the second opened in Portland in October. All produce is organic; a variety of non-meat patties are made in-house. The $8.25 Big Kahuna Burger starts with a seasoned tempeh patty topped with grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce.
When this six-year-old Miami-based concept won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash, people took notice. Named for Spanish bar-snack burgers, the chain has seven locations (including Miami Heat home American Airlines Arena) and two more Miami locations open soon. It’s likely to migrate north. The $8.49 Toston Burger is a fresh, all-natural beef patty topped with Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and house-made cilantro sauce on two fried-plantain “buns.”
Not even LeBron James is more proud to hail from Ohio than is this Fairlawn -based chain, which this year opened a fourth unit, in Strongsville, Ohio. The beef’s Ohio-raised as is the turkey for the Thanksgiving burgers. The draft beers are all Ohioan as well, including brews from Cincinnati’s Tap and Screw Brewery and a Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout from Akron’s Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. The Rail creates a Burger of the Month but doesn’t stop there. There are weekend specials, such the recent Sweet Jalapeňo burger (Ohio beef plus bread & butter pickles, jalapeňo BBQ sauce, jalapeno coleslaw and white Cheddar, topped with a wonton.
STACK’D CUSTOMER BURGERS & CRAFT BEER
Pittsburgh is one of the nation’s best burger towns but doesn’t get sufficient recognition. One of several growing concepts in the market is Stack’d Custom Burgers and Craft Beer, which opens its fourth location (in Wexford, Pa.) this month. Stack’d is unusual in that it offers build-your-own burgers only.
ZOMBIE BURGER + DRINK LAB
Based in Des Moines, Iowa, the most creatively outrageous burger bar in America opened a fourth location in Coralville, Iowa, and plans to add an Iowa City outpost on Dec. 13, 2016. Justly famous for its weekly specials—the latest, “Krampus,” has house-made goat chorizo, red chile sauce, friend onion strings, pepper-Jack cheese and chipotle mayo—Zombie also makes a mean milk shake.