From the pages of Restaurant Franchising
Moving Beyond Better Burgers

In November 2009, Burger 21 came to be when the owners of The Melting Pot Restaurants Inc. fondue restaurant franchise envisioned a fast-casual, “beyond the better burger” concept that featured 21 chef-inspired burgers with appetite appeal from the gourmet to the traditional burger lover.

“The founders saw an opportunity to introduce a burger and shake concept that was not a replica of what’s already out there. The burger business is a $65-billion market in the quick-service and fast-casual sector, and the fastest growing category in the food industry is the fast-casual ‘better burger,’” says Dan Stone, vice president of franchise development for Front Burner Brands, management company for Burger 21, based in Tampa, Florida. “That segment has experienced double digit growth.”

Mark Johnston, chief concept officer of Front Burner Brands and CEO and president of Burger 21, saw three existing levels within the burger business, the quick-service burger, the better burger, and the full-service restaurant burger. “He wanted to establish a fourth level,” Stone says, “beyond the better burger, featuring a chef-inspired menu with high-quality ingredients without the gourmet-driven price tag.” Burger 21 defines that level.

The restaurant serves 10 beef burgers, 10 non-beef burgers (chicken, turkey, veggie, seafood), and a featured burger of the month. Burger 21 also features salads, all-beef hot dogs, fries, a sauce bar with six proprietary fry sauces, and a signature shake bar offering hand-dipped shakes, floats, and more.

“With such variety and broad appeal, we’ve eliminated the veto vote, someone saying he or she can’t eat at a burger place without alternatives,” Stone says. “And it’s not build-your-own-burger. Burger 21’s menu and recipes are chef-created, with unique flavor profiles and premium ingredients.”

“The burger business is a $65-billion market in the quick-service and fast-casual sector.” —Dan Stone, VP Franchise Development

Designed to operate within 2,400 to 3,000 square feet, the concept features a contemporary-style diner atmosphere. Customers order at the counter, help themselves to drinks and the sauce bar, take their seats, and food is delivered within the targeted eight minutes.

“We are seeking end caps in high visibility retail hubs,” Stone says about locations. “And if not an end cap, then freestanding. We don’t want to be tucked away.”

Ideal franchisees for Burger 21 already have multiunit experience. “Those with experience already have infrastructure in place to develop other multiunit concepts,” Stone says. “Plus, it helps the franchisees meet and overcome financing challenges in the market because of an existing, successful track record.”

Burger 21 plans to expand in Florida first, then up the east coast before going national, and then international. However, if someone comes to them from Denver, for example, they would talk to any interested party about the possibilities. “With Front Burner Brands, we have the infrastructure needed to expand,” Stone says. Growth goals are 30 franchises sold by the end of 2012 and 500 stores open within the next 10 years.

Burger 21’s initial franchise fee is $40,000, although a 20 percent discount will be applied for a limited time, and reduced fees are offered for multiunit deals. Costs for opening a Burger 21 range from about $513,000 to $734,000.

Franchisees will receive training and support from the experienced Front Burner Brands. “It’s not your typical start-up. We’ve got the infrastructure of a seasoned player, and we share the support across brands,” Stone says.

A key to success will be keeping a local focus even while the brand grows nationally. “Part of our culture is the ‘B-isms,’” Stone says. “B-different, B-involved. We are very much about giving back to the community. We want to promote that sense of community and avoid being just another chain.”

For more information about franchising opportunities with Burger 21, visit