Fast-growing Five Guys burger chain sticks to basic, fresh food

ByABC News
June 7, 2009, 9:36 PM

— -- In 2002, Jerry Murrell was a small-business owner looking for experts to help expand his burger joints.

Seven years later, the leader of the free world is comparing Murrell's burgers with the pyramids of Egypt.

"Five Guys was good," President Obama said on his recent trip to Giza, Egypt. "This is better."

It's been a dizzying few weeks of national publicity for Murrell, founder and CEO of one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the country: Five Guys Burgers and Fries of Lorton, Va.

In April, first lady Michelle Obama dropped by a Five Guys location in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with her staff for lunch, followed soon by another visit. In late May, while taping an NBC news special, President Obama urged anchorman Brian Williams to join him on a Washington burger run. They went to a Five Guys, where the president ordered a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, jalapeño peppers and mustard. The footage was shown nationally on NBC. "I get tears in my eyes thinking about it, that they made such a big deal about Five Guys," Murrell, 65, says of the Obamas.

Other customers have been good to Murrell, too. With emphasis on menu simplicity and fresh ingredients, Five Guys has drawn a cult-like following among burger lovers, who compare it to another chain with a similar concept, In-N-Out Burger on the West Coast.

From its origins as an Arlington, Va., neighborhood takeout joint, Five Guys has grown to 436 locations in 32 states after it began franchising in 2002. Its restaurants are on track to generate more than $500 million in revenue this year. More than 1,700 stores have been sold for future development. Its first international location, in Calgary, will open in July.

Each store, which costs franchisees about $350,000 to $500,000 to build, generates about $1 million a year in sales. Each franchisee must have a net worth of $1 million and agree to open at least five stores, requirements that have been ratcheted up in recent years because of high demand. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Murrell says. "We're too humble to ever think we can compete with Wendy's and McDonald's."