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Wanted: Burger lovers

Mooyah hopes singular focus wins business



The interior at
Mooyah Burgers & Fries. Free burgers made this a crowded place on opening day.

Nothing stands between a burger-lover and free burgers—not even below-freezing temperatures and snow flurries on an April night in Texas.

By the time Mooyah Burgers and Fries opened its first location in Plano, Texas, at 11 a.m. in April, 125 people were standing in line, some since midnight bundled in coats and sleeping bags, for the chance at being one of 100 people to be given a year’s supply of burgers.

The crowd of customers willing to brave cold temperatures and a long line for its product was just what Mooyah executives hoped for when they decided to forgo traditional advertising for an opening-day promotion. “We thought we’d offer people who are crazy about hamburgers an opportunity to have a great burger, and we’d spread the word that way,” said company President Bob Andersen.

Mooyah is definitely a place for burger-lovers—indeed, don’t bother going if you want anything else. The company’s menu has what amounts to four items: burgers, fries, shakes and drinks. Its slogan says “Just Burgers, Just Fries, Just Better” and its Web site says, “Mooyah will never be all things to all people. Instead, we’re a celebration of all things burger.” The average ticket cost of just under $7 for a burger, fries, and a drink.

Company executives, including Andersen and co-founders Rich Hicks and Todd Istre, hope this singular focus will help the new company stand out in the rough-and-tumble, quick-service burger market.

Moola burgers

The Plano unit is serving between 500 and 700 diners per day, Andersen says, and averaging a weekly gross of more than $20,000. The company is projecting the unit’s 2007 revenue at about $1.2 million.

Despite the limited menu, Mooyah diners are not without options. Originally they were limited to single- or double-patty beef burgers, but after customers’ requests, Mooyah added a turkey and a veggie burger. The 16-item toppings list ranges from the regular offerings like lettuce and onions to more unique items like jalapenos and “special sauce.” Except for bacon and American cheese, which cost an additional 50 cents each, toppings are free, so diners can load their burger with everything they want.

Executives are so confident in their concept that they’ve jumped immediately into franchising—its only restaurant is a franchise. The company plans to open a total of five restaurants this year and as many as 30 the next, mostly in cities throughout Texas with growing youth populations and above-average income.

Leaping immediately into the franchise business can be risky, but Andersen says the company chose that route because all the executives have restaurant and franchising experience. Hicks is a former area director for Macaroni Grill and founder of Tin Star; Istre, a dentist by training, founded two restaurant concepts; and Andersen previously served as director of franchising for Boston Pizza and regional director for Sign-A-Rama.

Barry Newberg, the franchisee at the Plano restaurant, said he was attracted to the simplicity of the concept—not just for customers, but also for himself. “It’s easy for guests to understand and it’s easy for us to train and operate,” he says.

Newberg, who worked with Hicks at Tin Star for the past five years, acknowledges the risk of joining a concept without a proven track record, but says he has faith in the restaurant and the franchisors. “If it were strangers approaching me I’d probably feel differently,” he says. “But these are people I trust imminently.”

That faith is so strong, in fact, that he was willing to give away product on his first day.

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