My pal Alyssa tells a story about being in five guys restaurant 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 just the right amount of guys.”
After I started writing this, friends, I needed a longer, drawn-out story here. But when I heard that, I deleted everything. Because dammit if this Sam Adams-swilling street poet didn’t sum it up perfectly.
“If you can provide a good haircut or when you can serve a great drink at a bar or whenever you can serve a good hamburger, you can make money in the usa.” — 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. Since they started the place with their parents, that constituted “Five Guys,” and thus that name was born (and subsequently, a younger brother will be born 2 yrs later, offering them five actual guys as sons). The guidelines 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 eat as you waited.
The spot took off, therefore, within the next 20 years, they methodically opened four more in and around Cap City, then slowly started to expand into lower Virginia and Maryland. Starting in 2003, they expanded nationwide. Now there are over 1,500 Five Guys locations around the globe. Based on their website “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 concept of fast-food burger chains versus fast-casual is a scary topic to me. For instance, In-N-Out naturally fits into this conversation (and contains 340 locations) as the burger is usually discussed (by me, no less, later), within the national conversation of cult chain burgers along many of these joints, yet it is more fast food than fast casual (the actual existence of drive-thrus generally in most locations will be the differentiator for me). But this shit is tough to define, and giving me anxiety, so let’s just proceed.
Precisely what is Five Guys trying to do now? With this hyper-aggressive expansion plan, Five Guys is extremely clearly seeking to exert their influence in the Great Burger Wars of the fast-casual era. Along with nearly 4x the amount of restaurants as his or her next biggest rival, they’ve got a remarkable jump start. Also, quite famously, they never advertised in any way until about three years ago — which, if you believe about this, is type of a means of advertising in itself amirite?!? And even then, their ad footprint was purposefully small, and really only on the web and with social media marketing. They may be savvy Guys (and Girls).
The Way I made it happen: Throughout 2 weeks, I visited two Northern California Five Guys an overall of 3 times. I ordered each and every item on the actual menu, plus one off-menu item, and ate a bunch of peanuts for no reason as i was waiting.
A note on the peanuts: They’re fine? Shelling peanuts is much more regarding the process for me personally, that i found mildly relaxing. But in the end, they’re still just peanuts, because the phrase “I purchased it for peanuts” doesn’t suggest they’re a HUGE value-add, I’m not spending more hours to them.
Five Stars/Guys Who Definitely Are Enjoyable To Become Around: Many moons ago, I reviewed nearly 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: this was before Shake Shake began their intensive expansion, so that they weren’t yet within the mix, and it also was a confusing time for the 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 returning to what time does five guys close.
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 well-griddled bun that didn’t get soggy, and the exclusive use 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 let them properly caramelize), but they are definitely in the In-N-Out,/Shake Shack pantheon of quality fast-casual burger chains that sit above the rest of the major players.
Essentially it’s just a grilled cheese, but with an added burger patty and grilled onions. The patty melt advantages of the fact that they flip more than a regular bun and double grill it in what would normally become the inside the bun as the outside, and 2 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 complete thing after I’d sampled two burgers, two sausages, two other sandwiches, two orders of fries, as well as 2 milkshakes. I think my body created another stomach just to sate my needs.