Emerging Concepts | May 2016 | By Judy Kneiszel

One to Watch: Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Amid a crowded better-burger category, this Austin, Texas–borne concept stands out with an entirely scratch-made menu and full bar.
Texas fast casual burger chain makes all food in house and serves full bar alcohol.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Guy Villavaso, founding partner of Hopdoddy Burger Bar, calls the growing Fast Casual 2.0 “an adult place to get a burger.”

“That’s not to say we don’t cater to families with children,” he says. “But 80 percent of tables have barstools, and not a lot of burger places can say alcohol is 17 percent of sales.”

Villavaso and his longtime business partner in several full-service restaurant brands, Larry Foles, created the concept with Austin restaurateurs Larry Perdido and Chuck Smith. They wanted it to be a social experience where guests could wait in the line with a locally crafted beer or frozen margarita in hand as their burger is created in front of them.

The name Hopdoddy is a combination of hops, a key ingredient in beer making, and “doddy,” a Scottish nickname for cows. This combination of beer and beef has garnered a lot of attention in six years, being named one of the “Best Burgers in America” by both Food & Wine and Every Day with Rachael Ray.

Along with the beverages, tastes and prices at Hopdoddy are geared more toward grownups than the kids’ meal crowd. While the $7 Classic Burger—Angus beef, red leaf lettuce, white onion, and beefsteak tomato topped with Hopdoddy’s signature “Sassy Sauce”—is the bestseller along with the Kennebec fries, other menu offerings are more
adventurous.

Popular burgers include the $8.25 El Diablo, which is an Angus beef patty topped with Pepper Jack cheese, caramelized onions, Habanero and Serrano chilies, salsa, and chipotle mayo. Even more adventurous is the K-Town Belly, a $12 grass-fed beef burger topped with pork belly, kimchi, house-made gochujang sauce, Korean rice crispies, mayo, and basil leaves.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

FOUNDERS: Guy Villavaso, Larry Foles,
Larry Perdido, and Chuck Smith

HQ: Austin, Texas

YEAR STARTED: 2010

ANNUAL SALES: $50–$55 million

TOTAL UNITS: 13

FRANCHISE UNITS: 0

hopdoddy.com

All burgers are available on the guest’s choice of an egg (challah), whole-wheat, or gluten-free bun. In addition to beef, there are turkey, chicken, lamb, bison, tuna, and black bean burgers on the Hopdoddy menu, plus three salads: Caesar, spinach and arugula, and baby kale. Sides include truffle fries, chili con queso, and quinoa.

There is one part of the menu well suited to kids and kids at heart, and that’s the list of handcrafted shakes. With choices ranging from the $5 Vanilla Bean to the $6 Red Velvet, Chocolate Stout, and Nutella & Chocolate Pretzel, guests order a lot of shakes both before meals and for dessert. For those of age, alcohol can be added.

Besides a full bar in every location, Villavaso says, what differentiates Hopdoddy from other burger concepts is the quality. Only antibiotic- and hormone-free meat is used. Every burger is ground fresh to order and all buns are baked from scratch on site. The potatoes for the fries are blanched each morning and cut in-house, and all sauces and dressings are made in-house as well.

“It’s a scratch kitchen,” Villavaso says. “A tremendous amount of training goes on to teach how to time things so everything is going out hot. Our service line is geared around a 10-minute ticket time.”

Hopdoddy has been developing a hybrid service system where guests wait in line and order at the counter, but keep their ticket open rather than pay at the register. Then a server brings their food to the table, refreshes drinks, keeps the table clean, and brings requested condiments. The check is kept open at the table and is paid at the end of the entire dining experience.

“It’s more hospitable than having guests pay and then having to open another check for them to get a second drink or a shake,” Villavaso says. “Now you pay your server before you leave, like full service.”

The hybrid system is expected to increase the $16 per-person check average at Hopdoddy since it makes add-ons easy.

Hopdoddy has stores throughout Texas and in Arizona, Colorado, and California. The new system will be rolled out at all Hopdoddy locations outside the Austin market. Villavaso says the Austin restaurants “will not go to this because the volume they are doing is an anomaly.”

A differing service system is just one way Hopdoddy restaurants distinguish themselves. The “hops” at Hopdoddy also differ by location since all stores aim to sell beers brewed no more than 30 miles from the tap.

Villavaso says he and his partners would like to see the number of Hopdoddy locations continue to grow at a rate of 40–50 percent per year. Eight new locations are opening in 2016, and 12 new locations are planned for 2017.

Because Hopdoddy makes everything from scratch, Villavaso says, it requires “a very expensive equipment package.”

“We’ve had steakhouse and seafood full-service restaurants with $80 check averages that didn’t spend as much on equipment as these burger bars because we have to have baking, grinding, and patty-making equipment,” he says.

Villavaso says Hopdoddy will fill in its Texas and Arizona markets, while Florida is also targeted for growth.

“Most of our growth will be in Southern states,” he says. “We’re staying centered on warm-weather states where you can take advantage of patios 80 percent of year. That’s always a helpful advantage. We enjoy a robust patio business.”

 

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Interesting stuff!

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