My buddy Alyssa tells a story about being in five guys menu with prices 2020 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 simply the right amount of guys.”
When I started writing this, friends, I needed a longer, drawn-out story here. But 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 offer a good haircut or whenever you can serve a good drink in a bar or whenever you can serve a great hamburger, you could earn money in the united states.” — Five Guys founder Jerry Murrell’s mother
Where did Five Guys originate from? In 1986, the 4 brothers Murrell opened a takeaway burger joint in Arlington, Virginia, simply a stone’s throw from DC, AKA Cap City. As they started the spot with their parents, that constituted “Five Guys,” therefore that name was created (and subsequently, a younger brother will be born 2 yrs 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 order, they introduced complimentary shelled peanuts as something to snack on when you waited.
The spot took off, and so, over the next 20 years, they methodically opened four more in and around Cap City, then slowly began to expand into lower Virginia and Maryland. Starting in 2003, they expanded nationwide. Nowadays there are over 1,500 Five Guys locations around the globe. Based on their website “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 thought of fast-food burger chains versus fast-casual is a scary topic to me. For example, In-N-Out naturally fits into this conversation (and it has 340 locations) as the burger is often discussed (by me, no less, later), in the national conversation of cult chain burgers along the majority of these joints, but it is more fast food than fast casual (the existence of drive-thrus generally in most locations is definitely the differentiator for me). But this shit is tough to define, and giving me anxiety, so let’s just move on.
What is Five Guys seeking to do now? With this hyper-aggressive expansion plan, Five Guys is very clearly seeking to exert their influence in the Great Burger Wars from the fast-casual era. And with nearly 4x the volume of restaurants as his or her next biggest rival, they’ve got an impressive head start. Also, quite famously, they never advertised in any way until about three years ago — which, if you believe about this, is type of a way of advertising in itself amirite?!? And also then, their ad footprint was purposefully small and really only online and with social media marketing. They are savvy Guys (and Girls).
How I did it: Over the course of two weeks, I visited two Northern California Five Guys a total of 3 x. I ordered each item on the actual menu, plus one off-menu item, and ate a variety of peanuts for absolutely no reason as i was waiting.
A note on the peanuts: They’re fine? Shelling peanuts is a lot more regarding the process for me personally, that i found mildly relaxing. But in the end, they’re still just peanuts, because the phrase “I got it for peanuts” doesn’t suggest they’re a HUGE value-add, I’m not spending more hours on them.
Five Stars/Guys Who Definitely Are Enjoyable To Be Around: Many moons ago, I reviewed virtually every major chain cheeseburger. Much to the chagrin of my In-N-Out fanboy California family, I proclaimed Five Guys as getting the best. (Note: this is before Shake Shake began their intensive expansion, so that they weren’t yet within the mix, and it also had been a confusing time for your fhyxvv food vs fast-casual debate I mentioned earlier.) But after spending the last few years eating 330 burgers from independent restaurants across the country, I hadn’t been returning to five guys holiday hours.
But lo and behold, upon my revisits the burgers were again a small revelation. Each and every 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 use of American cheese, which is THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE CHEESE on burgers. They aren’t perfect (they tend to undercook the griddled onions, which doesn’t allow them to properly caramelize), however are definitely inside the In-N-Out,/Shake Shack pantheon of quality fast-casual burger chains that sit above all of those other major players.
Essentially it’s just a grilled cheese, however with an extra burger patty and grilled onions. The patty melt advantages of the fact that they flip over a regular bun and double grill it with what would normally become the inside of the bun because the outside, as well as 2 layers of cheese encasing the burger patty. The grilled onions inside the mix definitely makes the entire thing a gooey, griddled delight. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I ate the entire thing after I’d sampled two burgers, two sausages, two other sandwiches, two orders of fries, and 2 milkshakes. I do believe my body created another stomach in order to sate my needs.