This is part of the 2013 NRN 50 special report, "Breakout Brands." This year NRN takes a look at 50 brands that are some of today's hottest emerging concepts. Meet the concepts shaking up the restaurant marketplace.
The past 15 months have been a whirlwind at Burtons Grill. During that time, the Andover, Mass.-based polished-casual brand has doubled in size, growing to 10 units in suburban neighborhoods in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Virginia. That means that 40 percent of the company’s 700 employees are new.
“This year we’re putting a premium on the education and development of the workforce,” said Kevin Harron, president of parent company Burtons Grill LLC. “That takes a bit of time, especially as a small company.”
A 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Harron has worked at such brands as Legal Sea Foods, Kelly’s Roast Beef and Outback Steakhouse. As head of Outback franchisee Tedesco-KPH Partnership, he grew his portfolio to 17 restaurants, with one under development. Those locations were acquired by the franchisor for an estimated $71 million in 1999.
And that’s where the story of Burtons begins.
Harron joined Outback’s corporate team for a while and also worked at Kelly’s, but operations beckoned.
“I had always had that burning desire to develop my own concept,” Harron said.
He joined forces with Kevin Rowell and Pat Gordon, and Burtons was born, winning the attention of such investors as Peter Lynch of Fidelity Investments.
“We believed baby boomers were outgrowing the casual-dining chains,” Harron said, so the group took inspiration from Houston’s and created a place where, as stated on the website, “active, discerning adults” could find high-quality food and wine. And that’s what Denise Baron Herrera, Burtons’ vice president of food and beverage, strives to deliver.
Among the dinner entrées are Scallop Risotto, pan-seared Cajun-seasoned sea scallops served over risotto with fresh shrimp and snap peas, for $27.95; and Braised Short Ribs, slow cooked and served over a sweet onion-potato croquette with carrots and natural jus, for $23.95. The check average is $60 per guest.
“Kevin is a very, very savvy, sophisticated operator,” said David Shinney, president of DCS Associates, a Boston-based consulting firm. “I knew him from Legal Sea Foods, and if you look at his approach to the market, he’s very, very guest-service oriented.”
Research indicates that the baby boomers are a potentially lucrative target market. For the year ended Oct. 31, 2012, the number of per-capita visits to restaurants by adults aged 50 to 64 — or baby boomers — was 208, up from 204 a year earlier and 201 in 2003, according to The NPD Group. Meanwhile, restaurant visits by adults aged 18 to 24 — or Millennials — have declined steadily in the past five years, dropping to 233 from 254 in 2003.
Harron seeks out suburban communities with average household incomes of $100,000 but noted that competition for such sites is fierce.
In addition to employee development, Harron is now focusing on Burtons’ loyalty program.
“He doesn’t rest on his laurels,” Shinney said. “He’s constantly looking to improve.”
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