My buddy Alyssa tells a story about being in five guys burger in Boston. She’d just settled down with her food at her table when she overhead an over-served guy likely wearing a Shawn Thornton Bruins jersey talking to himself as he inhaled a cheeseburger. “Ahhhh,” he sighed, contentedly, in between bites. “This is simply the right amount of guys.”
Once I started writing this, friends, I had a longer, drawn-out story here. However when I heard that, I deleted everything. Because dammit if this Sam Adams-swilling street poet didn’t sum it perfectly.
“When you can give a good haircut or when you can serve a good drink at a bar or whenever you can serve a great hamburger, you could make money in America.” — Five Guys founder Jerry Murrell’s mother
Where did Five Guys come from? In 1986, the four brothers Murrell opened a takeaway burger joint in Arlington, Virginia, simply a stone’s throw from DC, AKA Cap City. As they started the area with their parents, that constituted “Five Guys,” and thus that name came to be (and subsequently, a younger brother would be born two years later, providing them with five actual guys as sons). The principles were simple: hand-formed, fresh-ground beef; fries cooked in peanut oil; no freezers. As each burger was made to order, they introduced complimentary shelled peanuts as something to snack on as you waited.
The place took off, and thus, over the next 15 years, they methodically opened four more in and around Cap City, then slowly began to expand into lower Virginia and Maryland. Starting in 2003, they expanded nationwide. Nowadays there are over 1,500 Five Guys locations all over the world. In accordance with their internet site “another 1,500 (are) in development.”
Competitor context. The clearest competitors to Five Guys are Shake Shack (around 200 total locations), Smashburger (370), Habit Burger (250), and Fat Burger (over 200). The idea of fast-food burger chains versus fast-casual is actually a scary topic for me personally. As an example, In-N-Out naturally suits this conversation (and contains 340 locations) because the burger is frequently discussed (by me, no less, later), within the national conversation of cult chain burgers along many of these joints, however it is more fast food than fast casual (the existence of drive-thrus generally in most locations is definitely the differentiator to me). But this shit is hard to define, and giving me anxiety, so let’s just proceed.
Precisely what is Five Guys trying to do now? With this particular hyper-aggressive expansion plan, Five Guys is quite clearly seeking to exert their influence in the Great Burger Wars from the fast-casual era. With nearly 4 times the volume of restaurants as his or her next biggest rival, they’ve got a remarkable jump start. Also, quite famously, they never advertised at all until around three years ago — which, if you believe regarding it, is sort of a means of advertising by itself amirite?!? And also then, their ad footprint was purposefully small, and really only on the internet and with social media. They may be savvy Guys (and Girls).
How I made it happen: Over the course of 2 weeks, I visited two Northern California Five Guys an overall of 3 x. I ordered each and every item on the actual menu, plus one off-menu item, and ate a lot of peanuts for no reason at all as i was waiting.
A note on the peanuts: They’re fine? Shelling peanuts is more concerning the process to me, which I found mildly relaxing. But in the long run, they’re still just peanuts, and since the phrase “I purchased it for peanuts” doesn’t suggest they’re a HUGE value-add, I’m not spending more time upon them.
Five Stars/Guys Who Definitely Are Enjoyable To Get Around: Many moons ago, I reviewed virtually every major chain cheeseburger. Much towards the chagrin of my In-N-Out fanboy California family, I proclaimed Five Guys as obtaining the best. (Note: it was before Shake Shake began their intensive expansion, so that they weren’t yet in the mix, and it also was actually a confusing time for your fhyxvv food vs fast-casual debate I mentioned earlier.) But after spending the recent years eating 330 burgers from independent restaurants all over the country, I hadn’t been to five guys burger.
But lo and behold, upon my revisits the burgers were again a small revelation. Each and every time, I saw char on the meat, hand-formed patties that broke apart easily, a properly-griddled bun that didn’t get soggy, and the exclusive utilization of American cheese, which is THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE CHEESE on burgers. They aren’t perfect (they have an inclination to undercook the griddled onions, which doesn’t allow them to properly caramelize), however they are definitely inside the In-N-Out,/Shake Shack pantheon of quality fast-casual burger chains that sit above all the other major players.
Essentially it’s only a grilled cheese, but with an extra burger patty and grilled onions. The patty melt advantages of the truth that they flip more than a regular bun and double grill it in what would normally become the within the bun as the outside, and two layers of cheese encasing the burger patty. The grilled onions inside the mix helps make the entire thing a gooey, griddled delight. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I ate the whole thing after I’d sampled two burgers, two sausages, two other sandwiches, two orders of fries, and two milkshakes. I do believe my body created another stomach just to sate my needs.