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Breakout Brands: 5 Napkin Burger

Breakout Brands: 5 Napkin Burger

This is part of the 2013 NRN 50 special report, "Breakout Brands." This year NRN takes a look at 50 brands that are some of today's hottest emerging concepts. Meet the concepts shaking up the restaurant marketplace.

5 Napkin Burger finds itself among heady company in the “Zagat 2013 New York City Restaurants” guide.

Coming in at No. 12 on the guide’s listing of the 50 most popular restaurants in the city, the burger-centric concept joins such fine-dining powerhouses as Le Bernardin, Gramercy Tavern, Daniel, Peter Luger Steak House, Babbo and 21 Club.

“It made us extremely proud,” said chief executive Robert Guarino, who co-owns the chain with his partners Simon Oren and Andy D’Amico. “What it says to us is that the people of New York love the brand and the experience.”

But while widely known for its two-fisted 10-ounce burgers, the full-service chain has proved to be more than just another better-burger concept vying for business in an increasingly competitive market. The 4-year-old chain has carved out a broader dining niche by offering a full menu of American dishes, full table service, a sophisticated beverage program and a lively neighborhood ambience.

Characterized by Guarino as being “the next-generation bar and grill,” 5 Napkin features a wide-ranging menu that includes a variety of soups and salads, sushi, and entrées such as Fish Tacos, Chipotle Chicken Mac & Cheese and Lobster Roll Sliders.

The menus at the chain’s six locations allow for some customization on the part of each restaurant’s chef, Guarino said, with about 15 percent of the items being specific to the market location.

“Our goal is to offer hand-crafted food,” he noted. “We want to be a hip, fun place where people can come all of the time. We didn’t want it to be just about the burger.”

However, the “hero” of the menu is clearly the concept’s burgers, he said, which account for more than half of sales.  

The signature burger is a 10-ounce beef burger topped with Gruyère cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary aïoli. In addition to four or five different beef burger selections, 5 Napkin also features burgers made from lamb, tuna, turkey and vegetables. Prices, which include a side of fries, range from $13.95 to $15.95.

5 Napkin also differentiates itself through its beverage program, which features craft beers, cocktails and wines by the glass.

“Craft beers are a big part of what we do,” Guarino said. “We have 14 draft lines in the new stores and 60 to 70 bottles on the list. We also have almost 25 cocktails on our drink list.”

Originally envisioned as a one-off, the first 5 Napkin was opened in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in June 2008, as the bottom was dropping out of the economy. However, because spending-conscious New Yorkers responded not necessarily by curtailing their dining-out behavior, but by trading down, the restaurant proved to be the right concept at the right time and took off, Guarino said.

Once the partners realized they had a hit on their hands, they began to replicate the concept — first in New York and then in Boston and Miami. Today their plan is to grow aggressively with company-owned outlets and, eventually, through franchising.

To help sustain more rapid growth in the future, the company spent 2012 developing a corporate infrastructure.

“This year we’ve been setting the table for the future,” Guarino said. “We’ve brought in a lot of new talent.”

Industry consultant Malcolm Knapp, president of Malcolm M. Knapp Inc. in New York, agreed that 5 Napkin Burger has legs.

“They have good, juicy burgers and feature main meal items, as well,” he said. “They do a good job with the food and provide a good setting.”

And while Knapp cautioned that the owners must be careful when it comes to site selection, he added, “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to expand nationally.”

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @NRNPaul

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