Elevation Burger debuts efficient new griddle

New technology will speed up burger production and increase sales

Elevation Burger plans to debut a new unit prototype that founder and chief executive Hans Hess says will reduce the “better burger” chain’s wait times and boost production.

The centerpiece of the prototype, which is scheduled to open Saturday in Germantown, Md., is a 20-foot-long, conveyor-style griddle designed by Hess, who maintains that it is unlike anything currently being used in the better burger sector.

The cast-iron griddle — which resembles a tank tread with perpendicular metal plates sticking out — “will create short, predictable wait times for guests,” who, Hess said, now may have to wait as long as 25 minutes for their orders during peak meal periods.

Since the 18-unit Arlington, Va.-based chain’s burgers are made fresh to order, normal off-peak wait times of four to five minutes can stretch up to five times that when the restaurants are busy, he explained.

“That’s a huge variation,” Hess said. “And it’s a problem faced by all of the better burger chains. A five-minute wait reflects one type of experience for the customer; 25 minutes is entirely another.

The new griddle can produce three times as much product in an hour as standard griddles and cook each burger in four minutes, he said. It also allows the operator to control the doneness of the patty.

“The griddle increases production of burgers dramatically, which will allow us to boost throughput and sales,” Hess said, adding that he expects new units will generate 40 percent to 80 percent more in sales than standard units, which average about $1.1 million each.

Hess, who founded the Elevation Burger chain in 2005, said he has been thinking about the problem for several years. However, he “got serious” about a year-and-a-half ago and contracted with a prototype company to construct his design. The patent is currently pending.

In addition to speeding up the cooking process and producing more burgers, the new griddle also simplifies training. “The old system for cooking burgers had 37 steps, which were distributed throughout several staffers,” Hess said. “The new griddle makes training a lot easier and increases consistency of product.”

At peak times, the griddle is manned by six staffers who load the buns and meat, flip the burgers, add condiments and cheese, and remove the burger from the griddle. A separate station wraps the burgers.

During slow periods, staff is scaled back.

The new griddle also will enable Elevation Burger to augment its menu. Hess said he previously avoided offering bacon as a burger topping because he wanted it cooked to order and not served from a holding bin. “Now we can cook the bacon fresh alongside the burger,” he said. “The same goes for fresh mushrooms. We’re also adding more sauces.”

With the new system, Elevation Burger will offer 18 different toppings.

The griddle will allow the chain to cook burgers to a different doneness. “We are offering an 8-ounce Thick and Rare Burger that we define as ‘undercooked,” he said. “And we’re experimenting with other options.”

In addition to allowing the restaurants to turn tables more quickly, the griddle could contribute to Elevation Burger’s carryout business, Hess said. “We expect takeout to rise somewhat because of the more predictable wait times.”

The new prototype encompasses about 2,500 square feet of space, which is 15-percent larger than older units. Seating is in the low 70s, Hess said, up from the low 50s.

The second company-owned prototype will open in Tysons Corner, Va., in the fall, followed by a third next year. It is expected to become available to franchisees at the end of 2011.

Elevation Burger positions itself under a health halo, featuring only 100-percent USDA-certified organic, grass-fed beef and freshly cut French fries cooked in pure olive oil. The chain’s limited menu also offers hand-scooped milk shakes.

Hess said the chain currently has more than 100 units in development and should have 30 locations opened by end of 2011. Plans call for the company and franchisees to open about 30 more in 2012.

With the recent opening of a unit in Kuwait, the brand also is expanding in the Middle East.

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected] [3].