Square 1 eyes growth in high-end burger sector

Square 1 Burgers & Bar has dived into the competitive high-end burger battle with the launch of two new restaurants in Sarasota, Fla., in the past six months and plans to open as many as six locations in central and southwest Florida by the end of 2012.

Bill Shumate, owner of one of Tampa Bay’s most well-known Italian restaurants — Bella’s Italian Café — opened Square 1 Burgers in South Tampa in 2008 and owns the original Square 1 with his former wife, Joanie Corneil.

Shumate, Corneil and Corneil’s current husband, Ray Leich, formed Square 1 Development, LLC, which owns the two restaurants in Sarasota.

Shumate is also the former chairman of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. Leich is the chief executive of Square 1 Development, LLC and is a partner in a franchisee that operates 31 Outback Steakhouse and three Bonefish Grill restaurants in the Northwest United States.

One of the Sarasota Square 1 sites is projected to generate $2 million in annual sales, while the other is expected to generate $1.8 million to $2 million, said Bill Milner, vice president of operations. The Tampa Square 1 is also on track to generate $1.8 million to $2 million in sales in 2011, Milner said.

The average per-person ticket for the three-unit chain is $10 to $11 for lunch and $12 to $15 for dinner.

The menu features 26 burgers, including Angus, ground ostrich, bison, turkey, portobello, chicken and tuna ranging from $6.99 for the “All-American Square Deal Burger” to a Kobe burger for $14.99. In all, the chain offers nine proteins on a choice of three kinds of buns — whole wheat, sesame and kaiser.

For the 80-year-old Shumate, starting a burger chain is returning to his roots — he opened a burger restaurant across the street from the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., in 1964. That’s why the chain is called Square 1 — it’s back to the burger business for Shumate.

Nation’s Restaurant News caught up with Shumate (BS), Corneil (JC) and Milner (BM) Wednesday to discuss the competitive high-end burger business.

How do you make your brand distinct from the other burger places?

JC: We do a lot more than just Angus. A lot of people don’t eat beef. We have three vegan burgers — a portobello, an X-rated grilled cheese and a very vegan veggie burger.

BS: People don’t believe they’re in a hamburger place. They’re really in a burger restaurant; we’re not a burger joint. We don’t serve burgers in baskets. We serve them on plates. We have cloth napkins. We have a full bar.

BM: We are full-service.

Tell us about your prototype design.

JC: We call it, “sexy saloon.” We have crystal chandeliers and cowhide booths.

BM: It’s cowboy chic.

Is that some kind of official industry term for the look?

BS: It will be.

What’s new on the menu?

JC: Crab cake burgers with a fruit topping, mango, salsa and jalapeño.

BS: We didn’t do anything like that in 1964, believe me.

JC: We’re also going to look at elk, venison, wild boar and kangaroo. I want to upgrade appetizers with a smoked trout spread and spicy shrimp dip.

What about dessert?

JC: I’m so over the cupcakes. They’re everywhere. I’m looking at dessert options like cookies with ice cream between them.

Besides social media, what other kinds of Web-based marketing are you doing?

BM: We have an eClub with 6,000 people.

Read more about Bill Shumate and Square 1 Burgers & Bar in June 13 of the Nation’s Restaurant News.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected] [3].
Follow him on Twitter: @AlanSnelNRN [4]