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Top 25 Burger Franchises to Watch in 2017
These are the top 25 burger franchises to keep an eye out for in 2017.

Burgers are a staple in many people’s diets throughout the world. Often times, people are searching for burgers when they’re looking for a quicker solution to their hunger. But these days, burgers are becoming much more sophisticated, and restaurants everywhere are starting to follow suit in the better-burger trend.  

Arthur Bovino is the executive editor of The Daily Meal for its Eat and Dine column, and he has witnessed the boom in better burger brands popping up all over the nation.

“The better-burger trend has certainly been on the move,” said Bovino. “As the chef-driven burger trend continues to strengthen, it’s really come out of the shadows of the golden arches and the king’s crown.”

Burgers and their creators across the nation continue to focus on unique ingredients and quality, and they are even adding other side-items to the menus to stay at the forefront of a hungry person’s—and potential investor’s—mind. Here are the top 25 brands leading the pack in the booming burger segment.

Smashburger

Unit Count: 365

Investment Range: $500,000-$1,500,000

Smashburger boasts a concept that’s unique to the burger industry—that’s because their burgers are handcrafted and smashed, then seasoned and seared. Their menu also offers all fresh ingredients and premium toppings. Bovino says Smashburger is underrated on the scene, having more than 350 locations open. But he expects Smashburger to continue to grow in the years to come thanks to its unique additions to the popular segment.

A&W

Unit Count: 1,000

Investment Range: $165,000-$1,072,000

The company started back in 1919 and quickly started franchising locations on the roadside before being bought in 2011. Since 2011, they have invested in brand strategy to revitalize A&W and better meet the expectations of today’s consumers. They are also following a trend Bovino recognized, which is adding chicken to their menu for those who aren’t keen on the red meat.

Red Robin

Unit Count: 540

Investment Range: $1,000,000+

Red Robin is a better burger concept with a full bar, extensive menu and alcoholic milkshakes to boot. As of 2012, the chain had 472 locations, a majority of which were company owned but were expanding, being named one of the Top 200 franchise systems in Franchise Times list in 2005.

5 Guys Burgers and Fries

Unit Count: 1,918

Investment Range: $152,000-$360,3000

Since 2003, the company has expanded to more than 1,000 locations in 47 states and six Canadian provinces. The company continues to expand their locations with a planned 1,500 units in the development phase, according to their website. They don’t have freezers in their locations, just coolers and they claim there are more than 250,000 ways to order a burger at each location.

Culver’s

Unit Count: 559

Investment Range: $600,000-$3,000,000

One butter burger with cheese, please! The company that was started in Wisconsin has become a recognizable name nationwide. Culver’s was started in 1984 but already has more than 500 locations in 22 states. The company’s quality product will keep them within the best of the best within the industry for the foreseeable future.

Whataburger

Unit Count: 774

Investment Range: $1,000,000+

The name stems from when Whataburger’s founder Harmon Dobson wanted to create a burger that was so good that after one bite, a customer would exclaim “What a burger!” Well, since the company launched in 1950, they have been able to do just that, and have since expanded to more than 800 locations in 10 states.  

Steak n’ Shake

Unit Count: 561

Investment Range: $500,000-$1,500,000

Steak n’ Shake was founded in Normal, Illinois in 1934 and has since grown their brand substantially with affordably priced—but great tasting—steak burgers and milkshakes. Steak n’ Shake has grown to a respectable 550 locations but is looking at new territories across the nation.

Carl’s Jr.

Unit Count: 3,100

Investment Range: $300,000-$1,678,000

Carl’s Jr. prides itself on bigger, better burgers and biscuits. The company currently has more than 1,200 locations, and in the coming years, they’re looking to expand from their Southwestern roots.

Sonic

Unit Count: 3,500

Investment Range: $1,002,000-$1,770,000

Sonic has a wide array of menu items, but burgers continue to be one of the leaders on the menu. The company has benefitted from strong advertising campaign and a unique drive-in concept. According to Sonic’s website, they have more than 3,500 locations in the nation but have territories open in all 50 states.

MOOYAH Burgers, Fries and Shakes

Unit Count: 100

Investment Range: $500,000-$1,000,000

The company started in 2007 in Plano, Texas and has rapidly evolved from there. In just nine years, the company opened 100 locations throughout the United States and continues to expand rapidly with franchising opportunities across the nation. Committed to its Seriously Fun culture, quality burgers, customizable toppings, hand-cut fries, and handspun shakes and hand cut fries, MOOYAH has emerged has a pioneer in the better burger segment.

Checkers and Rally’s

Unit Count: 830

Investment Range: $250,000-$750,000

Opening its first doors in 1986, Checker’s and Rally’s prides itself on bold flavors at a great value. Checkers and Rally’s merged in 1999, and to date, they have more than 800 locations open and operating, delivering their iconic burgers to fans across the country. Similar to their bold flavors, the expansion efforts are breaking down doors in new markets, too. This year, the brand announced that they would add as many as 40 locations in Baltimore in the next 10 years.

Fuddrucker’s

Unit Count: 183

Investment Range: $400,000+

Fuddrucker’s boasts more than 180 units system-wide since starting their franchising efforts in 1984. Fuddrucker’s focuses on big, customizable burgers that start with either third-pound, half-pound, or two-thirds-pound patties, and the customer builds up from there. Fuddrucker’s is currently seeking locations in North, Central and South America.

Dairy Queen

Unit Count: 6,679

Investment Range: $400,000-$1,000,000

With more than 6,000 locations nation-wide, the Dairy Queen made a name for itself with its iconic frozen dairy treats. Today, the brand has expanded their menu to include burgers and an array of other food items. Backed by decades of experience and its Chill & Grill concept, the brand continues to expand nationwide despite their already-large presence.

BurgerFi

Unit Count: 86

Investment Range: $698,000-$1,140,000

“Short for Burgerfication of the Nation,” BurgerFi is doing just that. They opened in 2011 and plan to have 100 locations open by the end of this year. Their “back to basics” concept that promotes their view of the better burger movement brings all-natural beef to the bun with incredible toppings like bacon, BurgerFi sauce and other options.

Hamburger Mary’s

Unit Count: 15

Investment Range: $250,000+

Started in the ‘70s in California, Hamburger Mary’s isn’t like most burger chains. Their emphasis is on being unique. While the corporate team instills common core beliefs and high business standards, they don’t have cookie-cutter specifications for each location. They believe in good food and separate themselves with live entertainment at each location.

Fat Burger

Unit Count: 200

Investment Range: $500,000-$1,000,000

Their name presents a bit of an oxymoron. According to their website, they were a part of an independent study that found they actually use the leanest combination of meet for their patty. Fat Burger, to the company, means they form large, juicy patties filled with robust flavor. Currently, Fat Burger has more than 200 locations worldwide and have more than 350 locations either purchased or in development.

Good Stuff Eatery

Unit Count: 5

Investment Range: $1,029,500-$1,338-5000

Good Stuff Eatery is another stealth player in the burger chain industry. With five locations, they’re a newcomer to the franchise industry. But after taking a look at their menu, it’s no surprise that this brand is poised to open up throughout the country. The “good stuff” means the food is the freshest you can find and produced locally.

Sobelmans Pub & Grill

Unit Count: 4

Investment Range: $276,500 to $849,000

Although Sobelmans has only four locations (all in Wisconsin, for now), there has been great interest from investors in bringing the iconic brand to their local communities. To maintain its character through franchising, Sobelmans looks for buildings that have character and historic charm to them. The burgers themselves have garnered a lot of attention, too, and Sobelmans has become the go-to place for its outrageous bloody mary’s.

Big Boy Burgers

Unit Count: 92

Investment Range: $600,000-$3,000,000

Big Boy is based out of Warren, Michigan, and a majority of their locations are in the Midwest, with a handful of locations in California. Big Boy has 92 locations in the United States and is seeking multi-unit franchisees to own their own Big Boy location. With burgers like the iconic,“Classic Big Boy” and the opportunity to build your own, the chain has plenty of room for more locations in the future.

Big Smoke Burgers

Unit Count: 19

Investment Range: $184,500-$417-500

Founded in Canada in 2007, this better burger concept has just one location in the United States. But the company has room to grow in the U.S. and throughout the world with its hand-crafted burger options and hand-spun shakes. The company currently has 19 locations throughout the world, and it’s offering franchising opportunities in single or multi-unit deals. And true to form, they also offer cheese curds covered in gravy.

Wayback Burgers

Unit Count: 120

Investment Range: $100,000-$300,000

The name is intended to take customers “way back” to simplicity, where fresh ingredients lead to great taste and satisfied customers. The simplicity is noted in their menu with six burger options, but the options themselves seem to offer layers of flavors through toppings. The brand has 120 locations in the U.S. with another 280 under contract. The brand is expanding fast but doing so cautiously to make sure each location is as successful as possible.

The Counter

Unit Count: 45

Investment Range: $750,000-$2,457,000

The Counter is another concept that really focuses on creativity and valuing each customer’s preferences. They pride themselves on allowing their customers to create their own burger with hundreds of ways to build their own burger. They currently have 45 locations around the world, and their expansive menu and booze-laced milkshake options make The Counter a strong player to look out for in the coming years.

Elevation Burger

Unit Count: 55

Investment Range: $408,500-$821-500

Elevation Burger prides itself on having 100 percent USDA certified, organic burger beef patties for their burgers, which is a key reason why this brand has such strong growth potential in the world. As the world attempts to get healthier, being organic has become a high priority for customers. The company currently has 55 locations throughout the world and expects that to rise as more and more consumers seek out an organic and customizable menu.

Habit Burger

Unit Count: 120

Investment Range: $769,000-$1,099,000

Habit Burger was founded by two brothers on the West Coast to help people “make it a habit” of getting burgers as meals because of their famous Charburger. The company currently has 120 locations with plans to start expanding eastward as well as establishing itself on the east coast for the first time.

Jack In The Box

Unit Count: 2,200 +

Investment Range: $1,328,650-$2,427,250

What started out as a restaurant with a literal Jack-In-The-Box on the roof has turned out to be one of the bigger, better-burger franchises to sweep the nation. With more than 2,000 locations worldwide, the company prides itself as being one that helped the drive-thru concept explode. With a loaded burger menu, supplemented by chicken, Jack In The Box believes it is starting on a path to bigger growth in the future.

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