Where Did Five Guys Start?

The Murrell family started Five Guys with a single store in 1986. In 2021 there are already more than 1,700 sites, and 1,500 more are planned. How did this success come about, and where did Five Guys start?

Reading time 6 min

The mother of Five Guys founder Jerry Murrell always said to him: „If you can give a good haircut or if you can serve a good drink at a bar or if you can serve a good hamburger, you can always make money in America.“

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The college fund

In 1986, Jerry and Janie Murrell gave their four children, Matt, Jim, Chad, and Ben, the following advice: „Either you start a business or go to college.“ They decided to put their college fund together and open a Burger joint in Arlington, Virginia.

The name „Five Guys“

The name Five Guys goes back to the four children plus the father, Jerry. Two years later, the Murrells had their fifth son, Tyler.

Struggles and success

Numerous hurdles accompanied the start. Employees stole money from the cash register, and the founder’s sons were constantly arguing about any issues they had to decide. However, when each son found an area that matched their strengths, the success story of Five Guys began. 

In the first years, Five Guys Coffee was sold very poorly and was dropped from the menu.

„Sell good burger, and people will pay for them“

From the beginning, the founders placed the highest value on the quality of the food. As Jerry Murrell puts it: „It’s a simple story: sell good burgers, and people will pay for them. And the people we hire need to understand our story. It’s about the quality of the food – it doesn’t work any other way.“

The burgers are shaped by hand, made exclusively from fresh ground beef, and grilled.

The fries are freshly cut by hand and fried in pure peanut oil.

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To freeze, or not to freeze

When the discussion about frozen meat arose, the Murrells did a blind test and found that burgers with fresh meat tasted better than burgers prepared with frozen meat. This decision stands to this day and is the reason why there are no freezers, only refrigerators.  

Timing in the kitchen?

You won’t find stopwatches at Five Guys, as a good cook knows when a burger is ready. The perfect Five Guys burger is the result of numerous experiments. The burger patties are thin as they take less time to fry. This property allows them to retain the full taste and also gives them a more excellent texture.

Best ingredients

To find the best mayonnaise for their burgers, Jerry Murrell and his sons tried out 16 different varieties.

The meat controversy

In the case of meat, there is a controversy associated with the use of antibiotics in beef.  According to a 2018 joint report by the National Resources Defence Council, Center for Food Safety and Consumer Report, Five Guys, like most other chains – received an „F.“

The customer experience

The kitchen is open plan so that the customer can see how the cook makes the burger.

As long as the customer waits for his order, he gets free roasted peanuts.

If there is criticism of the Five Guys burger, this usually concerns the burger buns for which Tyler Murrell is responsible. Five Guys produces the buns by themselves, and they are coming on the squishy side, which is intended, however.

The science of french fries

The potatoes Five Guys buys are all made in Idaho. Their purchase volume already accounts for more than 5% of the total production of this state. The potatoes are cut by hand and then washed for 3 minutes to reduce the starch content. After that, the potatoes are pre-cooked for two and a half hours, and until the fries are finished, they are stored in a cool place – a few hours at most. As soon as a portion of fries is ordered, they are fried for 2 to 3 minutes in the deep-fryer, shaken off precisely 15 times, and then served to the customer. The result is golden-brown fries, which are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Many customers consider them to be the best.

How many choices?

You can do a Five Guys Burger in over 250,000 different ways, as you have a wide selection of toppings that don’t cost anything extra. For example, grilled mushrooms, tomatoes, grilled onions, jalapeno peppers,  green peppers, hot sauce, and much more.

Beverages

Milkshakes have only been on the five guys‘ menu since 2014. In addition to classics like chocolate and strawberry, there are also unusual flavors like salted caramel or bacon.

When it came to drinks, Five Guys cooperates with Coca-Cola. They use the so-called Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, where you can mix all drinks of Coca-Cola according to your wishes. So you can spice up a regular Coca-Cola with Fanta or Sprite or Powerade or something else.

Absolutely No Delivery!?

For a long time, Five Guys refused to deliver as they believed it would harm the product. This strategy was not without risk. In the Washington D.C. area, the Pentagon with its 26,000 employees belongs to a significant customer group. When a U.S. admiral called and vehemently insisted on delivery – „Mr. Murrell, everyone delivers food to the Pentagon“ –  Jerry Murrell rejected and hung a 22-foot-long banner in front of the door that read, „Absolutely No Delivery.“ That was true, at least for a while. In 2009, even President Obama personally came to a Five Guys store to get his burger. In the meantime, Five Guys has complied with the multiple customer requirements and offers online ordering via the Five Guys app and delivery and pick-up – at least at specific locations.

Pricing

When it comes to pricing policy, Five Guys is flexible and calculates based on the purchase prices.  In the event of a shortage of ingredients, the price of a burger may therefore increase considerably.

Strategies for success in the restaurant industry.

Music

Five Guys plays Rock music from the 60s and 70s in their stores to create a relaxed and nostalgic atmosphere.

Preparing for franchise

During the 80s and 90s, the Murrell family perfected their simple system and built it up to five stores in the Washington DC area.

In 2003 Five Guys offered franchise contracts for the first time. In just 18 months, Five Guys Enterprises sold more than 300 units. Jerry Murrell didn’t initially want to build a franchise concept because he saw the threat that the food quality would suffer. Eventually, however, they decided to sell franchise contracts. However, franchisees must have above-average financial stability and have at least $5 million of funds.

Massive growth

Five Guys is one of the fastest-growing companies. From 2006 to 2012, growth was an incredible 792%. As early as 2012, sales exceeded one billion dollars.

What about ads?

Five Guys also pursues its strategy in the field of advertising and marketing. Instead of spending money on ads, they engage mystery shoppers, regularly visiting the Five Guys stores and putting them through their paces. The Top 200 Five Guys stores reaching all quality criteria receive bonuses of about $1000 each, which are split among the employees. This way, Five Guys maximizes the motivation of the employees, the quality of the food, and the guests‘ experience. And as an extra, they also get word of mouth from enthusiastic guests.

How can we answer our initial question „Where did Five Guys start?“

The success of Five Guys founds on the goal of making an outstanding burger. Let’s emphasize a few points:

  • Use of best ingredients
  • Optimized recipes, which are the result of many experiments
  • Quality is the top priority
  • Motivation of employees through performance-related bonus payments

What does this mean for you?

Five Guys has extraordinary success, but basically, you can achieve this too – even if it may not become a chain with hundreds or thousands of stores. However, it is feasible to develop and implement a successful restaurant concept.

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The book to support you

In my book „Business Plan to Start A Restaurant,“ I show you step by step how to create a restaurant concept – it consists of the following elements:

  1. Employees
  2. Food and beverages
  3. Furnishings
  4. Ambiance
  5. Unique selling point and
  6. Story

To start a restaurant business successfully, you need a business plan which contains four additional components that are of central importance for your success:

  • The orientation towards a specific target group
  • Choosing the right location
  • The creation of a budget
  • And the development of systems to cope with routine tasks.

Comprehensive Excel template

The book includes an extensive Excel template with 14 different tools to make all the critical calculations for your business plan. Its content is tailored to the Excel spreadsheet so that you can quickly transfer your data. As soon as you have entered your numbers in the Excel table, you can test different scenarios and thus determine your best path to success.

The question „Where did Five Guys start?“ should be answered. If you seriously want to start a restaurant, it´s up to you now!

This guide shows you step by step how to develop your idea into a complete business plan.

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