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Zinburger’s Wine-Burger Pairings Set Upscale Tone

Filed under Business, Casual Dining Burgers

While many others are exploring the synergies between burgers and craft beers, Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar already has jumped ahead a step.

The Briad Group this week opens its third Zinburger, a 5,300-square-foot restaurant at Towne Plaza at Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, N.J., proving that a concept that seemed a little out there when the first opened in 2010 may have found its audience.

The signature Zinburger with Manchego cheese, Zinfandel-braised onions and mayo.

The concept is just as the name implies. What pairs best with the $11 Samburger (with Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon, American cheese and Thousand Island dressing)? Zinburger suggests the Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel. But that wouldn’t be right with $15 Kobe Burger (with Cheddar, wild mushrooms and mayo). For that, the restaurant suggests Terlato Chapoutier Shiraz/Voignier with Kobe.

The restaurants also offer a build-your-own-burger option but most go for one of the house builds, which include chicken, ahi tuna and vegetarian choices in addition to beef. There’s a burger special each week (recently a Beef on Rye with Certified Angus Beef, pastrami, coleslaw, Swiss and Thousand Island on marbled rye) and milk shake special each month. Sides include hand-cut potato, sweet potato or zucchini fries; Double Truffle Fries with truffle aïoli  and truffle oil; onion rings with barbecue sauce and more.

Zinburger has 16 beer selections but it’s the 23-variety wine list that sets it apart from most other burger bars. The wine-burger pairings are neither mandatory nor a gimmick, says Briad Group Founder/President/CEO Brad Honigfeld, but they do establish a comfortable, high-end atmosphere for the concept. Wines by the glass are $5 to $12; no bottle is priced above $48). The company is the largest domestic franchisee of T.G.I. Friday’s and also operates Wendy’s, so it understands low- and mid-scale pricing. Honigfeld says he saw an opportunity for a more upscale venue that wasn’t fine dining but wasn’t fast casual either. Consultant Malcolm M. Knapp christened its blend of casual food and upscale ambience “fast high end” in a New York Times article. Honigfeld simply sees it as good business sense.

“We grind our meat fresh two or three times a day in the walk-in. Our bread is delivered twice a day. The fries, the shakes, everything is fresh and top quality,” he says. “Today the consumer with money wants a top-quality product and is willing to pay for that. The consumer who goes to Applebee’s or Friday’s and other chain restaurants is [financially] strapped.”

Briad Group CEO Brad Honigfeld

All three Zinburgers are sited in upscale shopping/lifestyle centers and it’s not accidental. “The ‘wine & burger bar’ name opens it to another kind of consumer, specifically female consumers,” Honigfeld says. “So women shopping at Chico’s or Coldwater Creek feel they can come in and have a hamburger or a tuna burger and a glass of wine.” After-work, couples and family business keeps evenings busy. Briad Group’s first Zinburger opened at the Promenade Shops at Clifton in Clifton, N.J.; the second recently opened in Paramus, N.J. It’s a different customer than is attracted to Briad’s T.G.I. Friday’s. “We didn’t even hurt Friday’s sales when [the Clifton] Zinburger opened,” he says.

The Zinburger concept was created by Tucson-based multiconcept operator Fox Restaurant Concepts, which has opened two Zinburgers in Tucson and a third in Phoenix. Briad Group’s involvement was a bit accidental. “When the financial crisis hit I had a large shopping center [Promenade Shops at Clifton in Clifton, N.J] that I had just completed next to one of our very successful T.G.I. Friday’s,” says Honigfeld, a friend of Fox CEO Sam Fox. “In order to avoid a margin call, I needed to become my own tenant in the real estate. I built three restaurants within the shopping center. I approached Sam and, though he doesn’t license anything to anyone, he agreed to license me the Zinburger name for that particular location. The second was a concept called CUPS Frozen Yogurt that did $2.2 million the first year out of a 1,000 sq. ft. Zinburger did $4 million out of 5,000 square feet. The third was a Corner Bakery Café.”

Briad’s first Zinburger did $4 million in sales.

Subsequently, Briad signed a broader licensing agreement with Fox Restaurant Concepts giving the New Jersey company rights to develop Zinburger in 23 states east of the Mississippi River. “I can’t tell you how many nights and weekends I spent in that first Zinburger before I decided I would buy half the U.S. from Sam Fox. Asking hundreds of people what they liked and they didn’t,” Honigfeld says. But knowing that Fox already successfully operated Zinburgers helped assure him the concept was sound. “Sam is a very creative individual and a great incubator of new concepts,” he says. “He understands trends and what look people look for in terms of quality and food and ambience.”

Honigfeld wants to open 10 to 15 a year and says he has leases for the next 10 already. Several will be in Simon Property Group malls, including Lenox Square in Atlanta; Town Center at Boca Raton, Fla.; Sawgrass Mills, Sunrise, Fla.; The Shops at Nanuet in Nanuet, N.Y; and Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, N.Y. A non-Simon location will be The Streets at South Point in Durham, N.C.

High gas prices and the return of the 2% payroll tax have hurt restaurants, and a minimum-wage hike would hurt even more, Honigfeld says. But he’s confident that restaurants committed to delivering high-quality food and ambience will do fine. “You hear lots of places say, ‘We have to remodel.’ They spend a lot of money on remodeling their look when what they really should do is check the ingredients in their food.” he says.

“But it’s early in the game,” he adds. “In a year, we’ll know better how the Zinburger concept works. It’s not like I don’t think it will work, though. Who doesn’t like a good burger or a good salad? It’s not a risk.”

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