My pal Alyssa tells a story about being in five guys menu with prices in Boston. She’d just settled down with her food at her table when she overhead an over-served guy likely wearing a Shawn Thornton Bruins jersey speaking to himself as he inhaled a cheeseburger. “Ahhhh,” he sighed, contentedly, in between bites. “This is the right amount of guys.”
When I started scripting this, friends, I needed an extended, drawn-out story here. However when I heard that, I deleted everything. Because dammit if this Sam Adams-swilling street poet didn’t sum it up perfectly.
“If you can provide a good haircut or if you can serve an excellent drink in a bar or whenever you can serve a good hamburger, you can generate income in the usa.” — Five Guys founder Jerry Murrell’s mother
Where did Five Guys result from? In 1986, the 4 brothers Murrell opened a takeaway burger joint in Arlington, Virginia, just a stone’s throw from DC, AKA Cap City. Since they started the spot making use of their parents, that constituted “Five Guys,” and thus that name came to be (and subsequently, a younger brother would be born two years later, offering them five actual guys as sons). The rules were simple: hand-formed, fresh-ground beef; fries cooked in peanut oil; no freezers. As each burger was created to acquire, they introduced complimentary shelled peanuts as something to snack on while you waited.
The spot took off, therefore, within the next fifteen years, they methodically opened four more in and around Cap City, then slowly started to expand into lower Virginia and Maryland. Starting in 2003, they expanded nationwide. There are now over 1,500 Five Guys locations worldwide. Based on their site “another 1,500 (are) in development.”
Competitor context. The clearest competitors to Five Guys are Shake Shack (around 200 total locations), Smashburger (370), Habit Burger (250), and Fat Burger (over 200). The idea of fast-food burger chains versus fast-casual is really a scary topic for me. For example, In-N-Out naturally fits into this conversation (and has 340 locations) as the burger is frequently discussed (by me, no less, later), in the national conversation of cult chain burgers along many of these joints, yet it is more fast food than fast casual (the presence of drive-thrus generally in most locations is definitely the differentiator for me). But this shit is hard to define, and giving me anxiety, so let’s just move ahead.
What is Five Guys seeking to do now? Using this hyper-aggressive expansion plan, Five Guys is extremely clearly trying to exert their influence in the Great Burger Wars of the fast-casual era. And with nearly 4x the quantity of restaurants as their next biggest rival, they’ve got a remarkable jump start. Also, quite famously, they never advertised at all until around three years ago — which, if you feel regarding it, is kind of a means of advertising by itself amirite?!? And even then, their ad footprint was purposefully small, and really only online and with social media marketing. These are savvy Guys (and Girls).
How I made it happen: Throughout 2 weeks, I went to two Northern California Five Guys a total of three times. I ordered each and every item on the actual menu, plus one off-menu item, and ate a variety of peanuts for no reason at all as i was waiting.
A note on the peanuts: They’re fine? Shelling peanuts is a lot more concerning the process for me personally, which I found mildly relaxing. But ultimately, they’re still just peanuts, and since the phrase “I got it for peanuts” doesn’t suggest they’re a massive value-add, I’m not spending more hours on them.
Five Stars/Guys Who Are Enjoyable To Get Around: Many moons ago, I reviewed nearly every major chain cheeseburger. Much for the chagrin of my In-N-Out fanboy California family, I proclaimed Five Guys as getting the best. (Note: it was before Shake Shake began their intensive expansion, so that they weren’t yet inside the mix, plus it was a confusing time for that fhyxvv food vs fast-casual debate I mentioned earlier.) But after spending recent years eating 330 burgers from independent restaurants all over the country, I hadn’t been back to five guys opening hours.
But lo and behold, upon my revisits the burgers were again a small revelation. Each time, I saw char on the meat, hand-formed patties that broke apart easily, a properly-griddled bun that didn’t get soggy, as well as the exclusive utilization of American cheese, the ONLY ACCEPTABLE CHEESE on burgers. They aren’t perfect (they have a tendency to undercook the griddled onions, which doesn’t permit them to properly caramelize), but they are definitely inside the In-N-Out,/Shake Shack pantheon of quality fast-casual burger chains that sit above the rest of the major players.
Essentially it’s simply a grilled cheese, but with an additional burger patty and grilled onions. The patty melt advantages from the reality that they flip spanning a regular bun and double grill it as to what would normally become the inside the bun because the outside, and two layers of cheese encasing the burger patty. The grilled onions in the mix makes the entire thing a gooey, griddled delight. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I ate the complete thing after I’d sampled two burgers, two sausages, two other sandwiches, two orders of fries, and 2 milkshakes. I believe my body created another stomach simply to sate my needs.