Despite the growing number of better-burger concepts in California, San Diego-based Burger Lounge is scheduled to open its eighth restaurant next month, with plans to double its unit count before the end of 2013.
California is home to the growing burger concepts Umami Burger and The Habit Burger Grill, as well as the 278-unit In-N-Out Burger quick-service chain. Franchise brands Five Guys Burgers and Fries, based in Lorton, Va., and Denver-based Smashburger also are expanding in the state.
Burger Lounge, however, has positioned itself as a health-focused fast-casual brand, offering organic grass-fed beef and free-rangeburgers, as well as wild salmon burgers and a vegetarian quinoa option.
Fries are made in house and fried twice, Belgian-style. And salads aim for fine-dining level quality, with options like an organic quinoa salad with roasted baby squash, corn, tomato, arugula, spinach, kale, red onion, toasted almonds, feta and a smoked tomato vinaigrette.
J. Dean Loring, Burger Lounge’s chief executive, founded the brand in 2007 with the goal of “doing a common thing uncommonly well,” he said.
“It’s an incredibly crowded space,” Loring said of the better-burger segment, “but we’ve been successful by keeping it simple and authentic and gimmick-free.”
Last year, private-equity firm KarpReilly LLC made a significant investment in Burger Lounge to fuel the brand’s growth. KarpReilly also has invested in a number of growing restaurant brands, including Habit Burger, based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Burger Lounge will open its eighth unit in Beverly Hills in mid July, with two more in development for this year in Santa Monica and Del Mar. Next year another five are planned, probably all in Southern California, Loring said.
Burger Lounge has an average check of about $12 and average unit volumes of about $1.6 million, and has seen same-store sales grow about 6 percent over the past 12 months, Loring said.
The menu has remained fairly simple, although the chain has added options liketenders, the salmon burger and quinoa salad. The classic beef Lounge Burger, $7.95, is the top seller, but tied for second place are the turkey burger and a vegetable salad with romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, tomato, corn, cucumber, red onion, jicama, ricotta and lemon-basil or buttermilk ranch dressing.
Beer and wine are also offered, along with milkshakes, ice cream sundaes and house-made desserts, like cupcakes.
Over the past five years, Loring said he has been building partnerships with vendors that uphold the brand’s quest for sustainability. The grass-fed beef comes from Rain Crow Ranch in Missouri, for example, and cheese comes from a supplier based in California that worked with Burger Lounge to develop an organic American cheese.
“We’ve tried to focus on building partnerships and getting exclusivity,” Loring said. “We’re intent on keeping it domestic. I think these companies are growing with us.”
Loring has been building the company’s infrastructure for growth. Earlier this year, for example, the chain hired Robert Lane as director of marketing.
The company, however, is not yet considering franchising or taking the brand overseas, he said. Growth will remain slow and steady. “We just plan on keeping our heads down and continuing to do what we do,” Loring said.