Founded in Santa Monica in 2003, The Counter quickly cornered the California market as the first build-your-own burger concept that emphasized variety, fresh ingredients and ample health-conscious options, including vegan picks. Offering customers both an innovative approach to an American classic and their traditional favorites—plus the option for a delicious burger to fit any lifestyle—led the Counter to become a California mainstay in a state known for setting national trends.
Craig Cappai, who owns and operates The Counter locations in Pasadena and Studio City with his partner Jason Doherty, said that the brand’s look, feel and offering all make sense for a California market.
“Our initial founder wanted a place to bring his family that was not typical to the abundance of chain restaurants,” Cappai explained. It turned out that Weinstein wasn’t alone in that progressive focus—The Counter was an immediate hit.
“Part of the brand is the progressiveness of the feel and of the aesthetic of the restaurant,” Cappai explained. “The garage doors opening to the outside—this idea of bringing the outdoors in. The feel has softened a little since the early days which was a more modern-industrial feel. Now it’s a bit more relaxed; very much a place that gives you an alternative to the corporate-feeling options. You can come have a beer or wine with your kids in a hip, trendy environment at the Counter.”
April Fogle, Brand Lead and VP of Operations for The Counter, agrees.
“In California, people still want to go out for a full service lunch and dinner,” Fogle explained. “We have a strong presence in the Northern California and L.A. markets, and we’re well-known in the California market. Why? We have best-in-class premium burgers, we use the freshest quality ingredients that you can build on a bun or a bowl and we offer vegan, gluten-free options that are not as common outside of California.”
Fogle continued: “Everybody in California has a different lifestyle, and there’s something for everyone. A California consumer expects customization and/or healthy offerings, and we provide both.”
Custom-built burgers in a laid-back California atmosphere not only drives the brand’s success in the Golden State, but this approach also keeps the doors wide open for national expansion.
“Our California presence is well-known; we have stores all over California,” Fogle said. “We have them in airports, so visitors from other markets might try The Counter in LAX or San Diego. And I know the quick-casual [landscape] is getting extremely competitive, with some casual dining options falling behind. Today, people want something that’s fast but unique in their market, and something with the background and history of success like a franchise but not so much that it feels like a chain.”
Fogle summed it up neatly: “California drives national trends. If you can succeed in California’s competitive marketplace, you can succeed anywhere,” Fogle said.
As The Counter expands beyond the California market, Fogle and Cappai both spoke to elements of the brand that position it for success.
“For me, I really think our service sets The Counter apart,” Cappai said. “We love all personalities. We look for diversity and for personalities that can engage with guests to make them feel part of the brand. We often talk about ‘encore’ experiences with our guests—going over the top, knowing our regulars and anticipating their orders. That way of really getting to know them is what makes us different from a more corporate chain; it’s a casual, California experience that anyone would enjoy.”
Cappai also emphasized that, given The Counter’s expansive menu options, the brand can play well in all kinds of markets, even when regional tastes change.
“The Counter just needs the right introduction,” said Cappai, “and with targeted marketing and the right staff, the Counter will be successful. Each state is unique, but that’s what’s so positive about this brand: you can take the concept and adapt it in any region.”
Moreover, Cappai emphasized that “the food speaks for itself."
“We have quality and customization, and that’s a universal demand right now, in all states,” Cappai said.
Fogle agreed, saying that a trip to The Counter means an experience above and beyond visits to other burger concepts.
“We offer a huge variety, and that speaks to more people. If your family or friends want to go out for a burger, and you’re vegan, you can still go; you don’t just have to have a house salad,” said Fogle. “And you can get creative! When people go out to have a burger and shake, they want to be indulgent, so having as many choices as they can is fun and is a great experience. We’ve seen social media blow up with people creating their own favorites and taking pictures of their outrageous creations they have made.”
While The Counter expands outside of California, the brand continues to grow locally.
“We sold a franchise agreement in Fresno, so we’re opening in the central California market,” Fogle said. “That’s exciting—we’ve done a lot of business in northern and southern California, so we’re excited to tap into central California. There’s a new Amazon center right there in Fresno, so that means a lot of new jobs and people coming into an already booming city.”
Cappai spoke to plans to optimize third-party delivery partnerships that himself and his partner Doherty have introduced at their locations, as well as bolstering sales by growing the catering side of the business.
“We have several large catering accounts in both our locations, which is great because catering allows for lower labor costs,” Cappai said. “Each region allows for different corporations and catering possibilities. In Studio City we cater for a lot of production companies while in Pasadena we cater to a lot of software companies.”
For 2019, it looks like fans can count on the brand to keep delivering custom creations, in markets known and new.
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