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Build a unique burger at Five Guys

New burger joint opens near Fred Meyer in Gresham
by: Jim Clark Business on the first weekday at Five Guys was brisk, to say the least.

Who knew there were 250,000 possible ways to order a burger.

'We have 15 toppings you can put on your burger,' said Bill Marble, local franchise owner for the recently opened Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Gresham. 'If you switch them around, you can have something different every time you order.'

From grilled onions and mushrooms to jalapeno peppers and hot sauce, Five Guys is redefining 'having it your way.'

The national chain began serving up its signature burgers and fries, Saturday, Jan. 7, at 2595 S.E. Burnside Road. It was one of the largest grand openings among Five Guys' metro locations, according to officials, with Five Guys' fans queuing up in lines that snaked around the building near Gresham Fred Meyer.

A burger joint with a cult-like following?

Five Guys was born from advice Virginia residents Jerry and Janie Murrell gave their sons in the mid-1980s: after you graduate from high school, start a business or go to college. The business route won and the family opened their first carry-out restaurant in Alexandria, Va., in 1986.

Going head-to-head with the big names like McDonald's and Burger King meant the family operation had to create its own niche in the industry. Five Guys focused on hand-formed burgers and quickly became known for its fresh-cut fries. Its mission was simply to offer the freshest and juiciest handmade burger, with as many toppings as would fit between a fresh-baked bun.

Success with five locations in the Washington, D.C., area led the family to open up franchise opportunities in early 2003. The company sold options for more than 300 stores in less than 18 months. Today, there are nearly 1,000 Five Guys locations across the country, with nearly 1,500 additional stores in development.

Five Guys' Gresham store is the 10th local franchise owned by Marble. His Oregon flagship Five Guys opened in Beaverton in 2008, followed by locations in West Linn, Oregon City and across the river in Vancouver, among others. Though a tough economic climate makes any new business risky, Marble said the market in Gresham was hungry for Five Guys.

'We've been getting a lot of requests to come out here for about three years,' Marble said. '(Gresham) is a fast growing area and removed just enough from Portland.'

What makes Five Guys unique is its adherence to strict quality guidelines. There are no freezers in any of the stores, since nothing is frozen, and company policy dictates a uniformity that includes everything from how high soda cups are stacked on the counter to the retro red and white décor.

'The company wants the standard to be the same straight across the country,' Marble said. 'When you walk in to any Five Guys, they're all the same.'

Five Guys uses its own recipe for hamburger and hot dog buns, which are produced daily under wraps at the Portland-based Franz Bakery. Only potatoes grown in Washington, Idaho and Oregon are purchased for the famous fries and fresh ground beef is trucked in daily. The company is so adamant about serving a quality product that substitutions aren't an option.

'Our bun recipe is unique to the industry,' Marble said. 'It took until 2009 before Franz was able to ramp up and get the recipe right. Our first three stores had their buns UPS'd in daily because you can't buy our buns. We're in a position to get buns from another store now, but before, if we ran out, we'd have to lock our doors.'

True burger connoisseurs believe there are only two players in the arena of hand-formed burgers - Five Guys and the famed In-N-Out Burger in the southwestern United States. While both restaurants focus on one main menu item (burgers), Marble said the comparison between the two places stops at the fries.

'Our French fries are made the right way,' he said, laughing. 'Fresh potatoes need to be blanched for at least two minutes to get the starch out. When we cut our fries, they go right into water, where they soak before going into the fryer. And we cook our fries in 100-percent peanut oil. They have much better flavor cooked in peanut oil. I've found that eight out of 10 people convert to Five Guys over In-N-Out once they've eaten here. The other two are such diehard cultists they can never be converted.'

Five Guys encourages its franchise owners to support the communities they serve through fundraisers for athletic teams and nonprofit groups. Organizations can request a day where those affiliated with the specific group can dine at the restaurant and a percentage of day's sales are returned to the group.

Additionally, Five Guys rewards its employees with bonuses for excellent service. Twice a week, mystery shoppers make surprise appearances during a lunch and dinner, where they score employees on the restaurant's cleanliness, quality of food and customer service. Monthly, a 'Phantom Shopper' arrives at closing to see if customers are still getting served and the restaurant is meeting Five Guys stringent rules for cleaning.

'A percentage of our sales goes into a national pot,' Marble said. 'Bonuses are paid based on store volume and split between the crew members. It's a weekly program, so these kids can make some decent money above their normal wage.'

Marble acknowledges the fast food industry is a competitive market, particularly for a restaurant with a narrow focus in offerings. Setting yourself apart from the crowd is a challenge. But if the restaurant's opening weekend is any indication, cultists and new fans have given Five Guys a high five.

'We only sell burgers and fries,' Marble said. 'We have to be good at what we do.'

If you go

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

WHERE: 2595 S.E. Burnside Road, Gresham

OFFERINGS: fresh, hand-formed burgers and fresh-cut fries, with 15 different toppings; Kosher-style hot dogs, as well as cheese, bacon and cheese-bacon dogs; veggie sandwiches, cheese veggie sandwiches and Grilled Cheese sandwiches; fries available in traditional Five Guys style or Cajun style.

CONTACT: Call 503-907-0092 or visit fiveguys.com

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week




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