Jake’s Wayback Burgers is no stranger to change. The chain that began in Newark, Del., in 1991 simply as Jake’s augmented its name in 2010 to gain some separation from all the other Jake’s. But that was two years and a couple dozen locations ago. On March 1, the chain introduces a new menu intended to broaden its appeal as the 62-store concept marches across the U.S.
The chain’s logo gets a more polished look but the core of the rebranding are new menu boards. In place of an all-type menu with a retro malt-shop look come boards full of photos. And not just burgers. While burgers continue to get the most attention—including a nine-patty monster called the Triple Triple Burger—the menu spotlights chicken, veggie and turkey burgers, a trio of signature hot dogs, salads and sides (including house-made chips and new Irish Nachos). The menu is part of a brand makeover conducted with Las Vegas agency Greenbaum Marketing.
“What we’ve found is that not a lot of customers are very aware that we have options other than our burgers,” says Gillian Maffeo, director of marketing for parent Jake’s Franchising LLC. When the new menu was tested in two upstate New York markets, the chain “saw an uptick in chicken sales,” she says. The menu shift isn’t a response to high beef prices, Maffeo insists: simple chicken, turkey and salad options have always been there but they have been improved to be more worth considering.
Test marketing the photo-heavy, streamlined menu also produced two other benefits: customers ordered more quickly and kitchen crews made fewer prep mistakes.
Although most of its units are in the East, Jake’s Wayback is quickly expanding nationally. A unit already has opened in Eugene, Ore. Another in Medford, Ore., opens soon, as do stores in Santa Ana and Ventura, Calif. Austin, Texas, is a possibility. With expansion come regional tastes and franchisee menu requests. So while the basic menu board features the Cheeesy Burger (with its distinctive inverted bun), BBQ Crunch Burger and Double Bacon Jake Burger, operators have the option to sub in the mushroom-and-Swiss-topped Philly Burger or Carolina Jake Burger for the BBQ Crunch Burger.
The $12.99 Triple Triple Burger with its nine burger patties and nine cheese slices originated as the centerpiece of its burger-eating contest last year. “It’s crazy. We had one guy eat it in less than two minutes,” says Maffeo. During the month-long test, it brought more than 100 orders.
Jake’s will continue to offer Burger and Shake of the Month specials. The Philly Burger is the February special. March will bring an on-trend Pub Burger with double patties topped with A.1. steak sauce and onion rings. It will be paired with a St. Patrick’s Day-friendly Irish Cream milk shake.
Those who want to customize toppings can go the build-your-own route on the Jake Cheeseburger, Triple Cheeseburger or Junior Cheeseburger. New sauce options include Buffalo Bleu and house specialty Wayback Gold (a barbecue/mustard hybrid). Sandwich options include new Grilled Chicken Caesar, Buffalo Crispy Chicken, Turkey Burger Club and Very Veggie.
Franchisees also are likely to try their own menu additions, and some turn out to be winners. One franchisee-created example is the Irish Nachos that are on the new menu. With house-made chips topped with home-style chili, Cheddar-Jack cheese, jalapeňos and onion, “they’re just so great. We had to include them,” Maffeo says.
“We’re hoping customers in our existing markets react well to the menu. I’m sure we’ll still have some folks who just want to come in for their Jake’s cheeseburger as always,” she says. “But we think this will prod customers to try some other options and other builds they might not have considered.”
The chain has grown from 12 Mid-Atlantic locations to 62 stores in 14 states (as far north as Salem, N.H.) in a little more than two years. Maffeo says the “new menu makes for a nice transition for the brand as it opens in markets across the country.”