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Ted’s Montana Grill debuts new burgers

In a return to its roots, Ted’s Montana Grill has debuted a new line of high-end burgers to help beef up menu sales following a challenging 2010 that saw the chain shutter nine underperforming restaurants.

The Atlanta-based casual-dining chain spent six months developing three new seven-ounce burgers and added new flavors to two longtime burger favorites — the first new burgers in eight years for the chain.

“We wanted to re-invigorate our customers with some new things,” said George McKerrow, chief executive of the 46-unit Ted’s Montana Grill, and co-founder of the chain with media entrepreneur Ted Turner. “It’s popular summer food. It was time.”

McKerrow, who also founded the LongHorn Steakhouse chain, said the launch of the new burgers marks a return to the brand’s early days as a high-end burger restaurant. Even today, while Ted’s offers such dishes as crab cakes, cedar plank salmon and Delmonico ribeye, 45 percent of diners still order burgers, he said.

The chain is marketing the new menu offerings as an attraction for customers who may want to order burgers during any daypart, he said.

“We started with the gourmet burger as a foundation and morphed into a grill concept,” McKerrow said. “The day of the burger as only a lunchtime feature has passed.”

The three new burgers are:

The Avalon Burger — topped with melted Gruyère cheese, bleu cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, roasted garlic aioli and baby arugula, and served on a toasted onion bun.

The Peppercorn Burger —seasoned and seared with peppercorns and topped with melted Gruyère, herb Dijon mustard and fresh baby arugula. It’s also served on a toasted onion bun.

The Canyon Creek Burger — topped with melted cheddar cheese, bacon, diced jalapeños, blackberry jam, and a fried egg over-easy, and served on a corn-dusted Kaiser roll.

Ted’s also added new variations to two current burgers. The Montana Breakfast Burger, served on a corn-dusted Kaiser roll, now comes with American cheese, grilled ham, a fried egg over-easy and spicy house-made tomato jam.

The “New” New Mexico Burger, also served on a Kaiser roll, features pepper jack cheese, roasted Anaheim pepper, fresh guacamole and Ted’s spicy tomato jam.

“Burgers come with onions. Burgers come with mushrooms. Burgers come with cheese,” McKerrow said. “We wanted to have some fun and excitement. We pride ourselves on taking a colossal approach to our products.”

The ticket price is $12 or $13 for the beef burgers and $15 or $16 for the bison burgers — one of Ted’s specialty items — depending on location. The burgers are accompanied by fresh-cut French fries.

Ted’s generates an average per-person check of $20.83.

“We feel comfortable with the pricing,” McKerrow said. “Bison right now is long on demand and short of supply. Bison is expensive. We have avoided discounting our brand and lowering the portions and sides. These burgers are seven-ounce burgers.”

McKerrow said the recent launch went well and the new or improved burgers currently accounts for 10 percent of restaurant sales.

McKerrow described the menu initiative as “a very big commitment in time, energy and money.” He also said there were human resources, training and materials that were required.

“We had to remind ourselves of what brought us to the dance, so to speak — gourmet burgers,” McKerrow said. “It was time to get back to our roots.”

Following the closing of nine underperforming restaurants last year, McKerrow said Ted’s Montana Grill has no plans to close any others in 2011. He said the chain hopes to open two to four new restaurants in 2012 and is looking to expand in the Georgia, Florida, Colorado and Washington, D.C./mid-Atlantic markets.

The goal is to open three to five annually after 2012, McKerrow said.

The story was initially reported by

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].

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