Using a methodical approach to expansion, Guzzetta and Buckley have helped BurgerFi grow to more than 100 locations.
When franchise development director Charlie Guzzetta started working with BurgerFi five years ago, the chef-driven better-burger concept had opened 30 locations since its founding in South Florida in 2011. After the brand launched its franchise opportunity in 2012, Guzzetta started working with Graham Buckley, another BurgerFi franchise development director, to help the brand continue expanding.
“In order to spur growth, we knew we needed to take a calculated and methodical approach to franchising,” Buckley said. “Instead of reaching out to whoever had a few dollars in their pockets, we decided to seek ambitious people with restaurant experience in ideal territories where we knew our brand would be successful.”
That strategy worked. After gaining traction in Florida and carefully expanding throughout the Southeast, the brand began introducing the franchise to new markets across the U.S. Now, the brand has more than 100 locations open across the United States.
Founded at a time when a consumer demand for high-quality, sustainably sourced food, fresh ingredients and transparency was on the rise, BurgerFi was able to capitalize on calls for better burgers while many established chains were slow to respond.
“Founding BurgerFi in 2011 and offering the franchise opportunity in 2012 gave us a real advantage because we were the first better-burger concept to start with a clean slate,” Guzzetta said. “Trends toward healthy eating, transparency and quality were just taking off, and we had an empty canvas and the ability to work from scratch to design our unique concept centered around fresh, quality food and sustainability. We looked at the burger chains that were already out there and figured out how to be different and how to be better.”
According to Guzzetta, the company’s obsessive focus on quality plays a major role in attracting both customers and franchisees. The restaurant’s beef is part of the Never, Ever program, which means it is never exposed to steroids, antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals or additives, and all of its food, including fries made from Idaho potatoes and hand-battered onion rings, is prepared fresh and in-house daily.
“The biggest contributor to our growth has been the star of the show: our food,” Guzzetta said. “Most of our prospective franchisees come to us after eating at our restaurants. They see that we understand that even though people are more health-conscious, they still enjoy comfort food like burgers and fries. They just want it in a fresh, natural and sustainable way.”
In addition to the food, prospective franchisees are also impressed with the top-of-the-line technology and resources BurgerFi offers its franchisees along with its future-oriented thinking.
“As franchisees look to partner with new concepts, they are looking at who is here to stay, who is ahead of the curve and who has an eye for the future,” Buckley said. “We were the first national burger concept to launch the Beyond Burger, which is a plant-based burger that looks, tastes and cooks like beef because we saw that vegetarian and vegan diets were becoming more popular. From a technology standpoint, everyone is just now partnering with third party delivery providers, but we have had a delivery scheme in place for years. When it comes to new developments, we are not taking our foot off the pedal and we will continue to push the envelope.”
Along with growing its presence in states such as Florida, Georgia and Texas, BurgerFi is looking to expand across the East Coast, including the D.C. metro area, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and New York. With 10 new stores opening before the end of 2018 and 25 to 35 projected to open in 2019, BurgerFi is well on its way to accomplishing its expansion goals.
“We are focused on contiguous development and smart clustering,” Buckley said. “We want to build stores in markets that we know will work for BurgerFi based on previous experience. In markets where we have a presence, we are taking advantage of brand recognition. In new markets, we are looking for dedicated and sophisticated operators with restaurant experience who are committed to growing the business and the brand.”