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URBurger Seeks Its Fast-Casual Niche

Filed under Fast Casual, Q&A

Mike Sanford is a former president/CEO with The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille chain, which was sold last year to Stone-Goff Partners (three years after his departure from the company). But he hasn’t left the restaurant business. He’ll soon open URBurger, a fast-casual burger concept, in Edgewater, Md., that also will feature craft beers and adult milk shakes like the Oreo Shake (vanilla ice cream, Bailey’s, Kahlua and crushed Oreos). spoke with Mike Sanford about the venture.


So was this like Michael Corleone, where just when you could have left the crazy restaurant life, it pulls you back in?
What happened was that until recently my son was still working for The Greene Turtle; he was the general manager of one of the stores. He had worked for the Turtle in different capacities since he got out of college. When we began working with Edward Jones to see if someone wanted to acquire us, I realized he had worked for me for a long time but we had never had a chance to work together.

That’s how it started. We investigated some ideas and looked at a lot of franchises. We decided that we could do it on our own and do it like we wanted to do it. Maybe we’d do one and think about a second location. But finally we said that if we’re going to do it let’s set ourselves up so that if the concept is successful we can franchise it. That’s a long-range goal, of course, but you may as well set it up with that in mind so it’s a lot easier to do than to go back and reinvent the wheel three or four years later.

We started with absolutely nothing, but we’ve spent a little over a year working with The Cyphers Agency in Annapolis, Md., on the whole concept: the name, look, menu, etc. They’ve been great.

Rendering courtesy The Cyphers Agency

Rendering courtesy of The Cyphers Agency

Why burgers?
I looked at a lot of the hot concepts out there and in my mind everything kept coming back to burgers and pizza. Everything else is what I consider a Hula Hoop trend. Not a lot of legs. But burgers and pizza always work.

We wanted to do something different. Good product and good service is a given but what can we do differently? That’s how we came up with our hybrid concept for UR Burger. For people in a hurry there’s counter service. But for people who aren’t in a hurry and want to hang out and talk to their buddies for a while we’ve got a 10-foot bar with 10 other high-top table seats in the bar.

We think alcoholic beverages will only be 10% to 15% of our business but the bar separates us from Five Guys and the burger joints.

How many seats in total?
Ninety-two. It’s an old Friendly’s location. We’re just short of 4,000 square feet. We have an area where we could do outside seating, but we won’t yet when we start. It’s something we’ll probably to do later.

You have both build-your-own and signature burgers?
Yes. We’ll have six what we call Specialty Burgers plus the URBurger build-your-own capability. We also have chicken sandwiches, cheesesteaks and four salad options.

It’s a compact menu.
Absolutely. One thing I’ve learned is “keep it simple.” It’s a whole lot easier to do a few things great than a lot of things great. We’re focusing on top-quality ingredients. A meat company is doing a special grind for our burgers.

Who do you think is your audience?
Young adults. Millennials starting their families. We have a lot of sports parks nearby so we’ll be doing a lot of team sponsorships.

Being in a former Friendly’s site have you considered offering breakfast?
One of the nice things about doing something new on your own and not tied to a franchise operation is that we can if we want to. A lot of the Friendly’s clientele were breakfast-goers and they’ve been coming by in the weeks we’ve doing renovation to see what we’re about. So we’ve talked about breakfast but we’re not going to do it when we start. We’ll walk before we run; maybe we’ll do it just on Fridays and Saturdays at first. My son ran The Greene Turtle at BWI Airport so it had to open at 5:30 a.m. He has experience with breakfast, so I’d guess that it’s 80% certain that we’ll do [breakfast] at some point in time.

I say if you’re not confident in something and aren’t sure you can do it right, don’t do it now.

Does all the activity in the “Better Burger” segment worry you or tell you there’s something here for you if you do it right?
Both, but more the latter. I think we’ll be able to differentiate ourselves. If we were just planning a quick-serve, counter-service no-bar burger joint, I wouldn’t do it. But we’ve got some different elements. I think the adult milk shakes are a good idea even if we don’t sell a ton of them. But that appeals to those people 28 to 45. So the crowding in the marketplace is a little scary for sure, but I know we can do a good enough job to make it work.

When do you expect to open?
Memorial Day. But I don’t want to shortchange us on the training side. We have some bugs to work out so we’ll probably need a good week to 10 days of in-store training. If not Memorial Day then soon after.

One Response to URBurger Seeks Its Fast-Casual Niche

  1. Ron Chin

    Send some coupons out!