Powered by a streamlined, energy-efficient kitchen with fine-dining touches and a menu of organic, natural and local fare with modest prices, the popular new Yeah! Burger in Atlanta is shaping up as a potential growth vehicle in the fast-casual restaurant segment.
“The customer response has been very positive,” said Erik Maier, a marketing and branding specialist who teamed with Shaun Doty, chef-owner of Shaun’s, a well-regarded casual neighborhood bistro in Atlanta, to open Yeah! Burger in June. He reported that the eatery is attracting long lines of patrons with grass-fed beef burgers, hand-cut French fries, salads made with organic lettuce and organic ice cream shakes.
Maier said he and Doty spent more than two years developing the concept. Early on, they visited trendy upscale hamburger restaurants in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Austin, Texas.
“There are some great hamburger places around the country,” said Maier, who is managing partner of the restaurant. “But we wanted to come out with something unique. Our two biggest differentiators are organic and natural ingredients and eco-friendliness.”
The top-selling item is a beef burger, a one-third pound double stack of grass-fed Georgia beef, priced at $7.99. Next in sales rank is a naturally raised, grass-fed bison burger at the same price. In addition, there is a naturally raised turkey burger and a veggie burger made from organic red peas from Sea Island, Georgia, each priced at $5.99. Other signatures include hand-cut French fries, buttermilk Vidalia onion rings and fried pickles with ranch dressing, all fried in canola oil and priced at $2.49 per order. The selection also boasts shakes, which are made with organic soft-serve ice cream, priced at $5.49.
Maier described the Yeah! Burger concept as “a hybrid of fast-casual and fine-dining, or fast-fine.” It incorporates some features associated with more upscale restaurants – not only the scratch cooking and natural and organic ingredients, but also a 17-seat bar with a full liquor license, including a whiskey collection and creative cocktails. There’s also an open kitchen that shows off the cooking action. Designed in a “California casual” style, the 2,500 square-foot spot seats 55 customers in the dining room and more than 40 on a concrete-tiled patio.
In addition to using his fine-dining background as the mastermind behind the food, Doty drew up a compact kitchen with energy-efficient, highly productive equipment and a step-saving workflow. Yeah! Burger runs on daily food deliveries, allowing the space that otherwise would be used for storage to be used for food production.
“We get all of our food every day and we sell it every day,” said Doty. “It’s a sign of the fine-dining culture – a step beyond the old operational style of getting a weekly delivery and putting it all in the freezer.”
It is also an environmentally sustainable restaurant. For starters, the kitchen equipment is Energy Star labeled for energy savings. An energy-management system adjusts the speed of the fans in the kitchen exhaust hoods for the most efficient ventilation. There is also an energy-efficient HVAC system and power-saving LED lighting. “We wanted to carry the green theme throughout the restaurant,” said Maier.
A traditional flat griddle is used to cook the burgers, which are the mainstays of the menu. “People are nostalgic about the classic burger experience, so we thought the griddle was the most appropriate equipment,” said Doty. There is also a small grill for cooking naturally raised chicken breasts for sandwiches and salads.
Other key pieces are the electric fryers, which accommodate the volume of French fries, onion rings and fried pickles that Yeah! Burger sells. Helping to extend the effective life of the canola oil in the fryers and make them easier to maintain is an oil management system that exports spent oil from the fryers to vats outside the kitchen and refills them with fresh oil. “It’s also a safety feature, because we don’t have to manually change hot oil,” said Doty.
Because Yeah! Burger caters to customers with gluten sensitivity, there is a separate fryer for gluten-free French fries and gluten-free onion rings. Gluten-free offerings have endeared the restaurant to celiac disease sufferers in Atlanta, Maier said.
While Yeah! Burger is outperforming its pre-opening sales projections even in its early stages, Maier said there are no franchising plans yet. Instead, the partners are concentrating on perfecting the flagship store and opening a second Atlanta unit in October.
“We want to focus on the operational success of the first two restaurants,” Maier said.
James Scarpa is a contributor to Nation's Restaurant News. E-mail editor Sarah E. Lockyer at [email protected]