Smashburger opened its 194th unit this week in Los Angeles, the first outside the Denver area to feature a new décor package that will define the concept’s next generation of restaurants.
Smashburger updates its look
Three units in Smashburger’s hometown of Denver have tested the new look, and the chain is ready to move forward in company-owned restaurants with the design, which brings modern touches to the fast-casual brand.
Tom Ryan, Smashburger’s founder and chief concept officer, said the chain is expected to pass the 200-unit milestone within about two weeks, although with several units under construction, he wasn’t sure where it would be. The chain has targeted 60 to 75 openings worldwide for 2013.
The new 2,200-square-foot, company-owned unit in the Culver City neighborhood of Los Angeles is the second of 40 to 60 planned for the sprawling metro area over the next five to seven years. The first Los Angeles-area Smashburger opened in the outlying city of Thousand Oaks last year.
Known for its Angus beef burgers that are smashed on a flat-top grill to sear in juices, the five-year-old Smashburger chain has been one of the fastest-growing brands within the increasingly crowded better burger category.
In Los Angeles, the chain faces stiff competition from California-grown brands In-N-Out Burger, Habit Burger Grill and Umami Burger. Also in the fray is East Coast-based Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Ryan said Smashburger’s differentiated concept will appeal to Angelenos, with its focus on high-quality ingredients like Häagen-Dazs shakes, the availability of craft beer, and a lineup of creative burgers and sides that tap “latent demand” for something different.
Ryan said burger lovers are tired of 50-year-old brands that have long defined the quick-service segment. “We’re defining burger occasions for the next generation,” he added.
Like all Smashburger locations, the new unit has a regionally specific burger. The L.A. Burger, which debuted at the Thousand Oaks location last year, is topped with a fried egg, a crispy wonton square, a generous amount of fresh cilantro and cucumber slices, and lettuce and tomato. A Japanese-style ginger dressing completes the Asian-fusion flavors. The burger is served on a bun sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds.
The Culver City location features an edited menu while the company studies what will work best in the Los Angeles market. There are no hot dogs or crispy, and the menu has only two salads. An item from the Los Angeles menu, a mushroom burger with Swiss cheese and truffle oil, is scheduled to roll out nationwide this week.
The new décor package includes digital menu boards, which allow for easier rotation of seasonal specials. Seating includes a mix of high and low tables and chairs, with standing tables for those waiting on to-go orders and bar seating in front of a window for solo diners. Glass panels etched with the chain’s logo separate tables. Photos featuring California imagery line the walls, and posters throughout the restaurant remind guests about the brand’s points of differentiation.
Two more Smashburger locations are expected to open within the next six months, in Hollywood and Redondo Beach.
Ryan said the Los Angeles area will be a hub for company-owned restaurants, though it’s possible franchisees will also join into the mix there. Smashburger is roughly 50-percent franchise operated.