Five Guys Burgers is a chain of burger places that began in the mid-80's in suburban Washington, D.C. Five Guys enjoys the same sort of pop-culture rock-star status with their loyal customers on the east coast that In 'n' Out Burger has on the west coast. A Road Tips reader - and I apologize to whoever it was who e-mailed me about their love for Five Guys Burgers - turned me on to the place. It turned out that they have a couple three franchises in the Kansas City area. While in K.C. recently, I decided to find one to try.
Five Guys Burgers was founded in 1986 in Arlington, VA by Jerry Murrell, a local insurance man. At the time, Murrell and his wife had four sons. Jerry wanted to start a burger place where the burgers were hand-formed and cooked to order. Jerry's sons, all of which were either in grade school to just starting high school, were asked if they wanted to take their college fund and invest it in his eatery. The boys all voted to take their college money and pop it into the new business. Jerry and his sons were the original "five guys". A couple years after the restaurant opened, Jerry and his wife, Janie, had another son. Those five sons are the Five Guys who are involved in the business today.
Five Guys Burgers began to gain a cult following around the D.C. area. The Murrell's added four more stores in the northern Virginia area before beginning to franchise in 2002. Today, there are over 300 locations in 23 states. They just opened their first two locations in the Chicago area in late 2008.
Five Guys is definitely different from most other fast food places. At most other fast food places, the burgers wait for you. With Five Guys, you wait on the burger. This is very similar to the In 'n' Out concept. You're definitely waiting for the burger and it's hot off the grill when it's served to you.
The bun is specially made for Five Guys at a number of regional bakeries and it is soft, chewy and flavorful. I've always said the key to a great burger is the bun. The bun is buttered and toasted before one of their eight different varieties of burgers are placed on the bun. Five Guys also offers 15 different toppings - all of them free - to add to the burger. In addition to your regular ketchup, mustard and pickles, you get your choice of fried or raw onions, jalapenos, sauteed mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and relish - to name a few of the toppings. You can also get hot sauce, A1 sauce, or barbecue sauce topped on the burger.
It was around 1:30 when I found the Five Guys Burgers in Lee's Summit, MO (see map). It was located in a strip mall with ample parking in the area. I walked in and was struck at how remarkably shiny it looked. In fact, it sort of reminded me of a Steak n Shake only instead of black and white tile, Five Guys had white and red tile throughout.
There wasn't much of a line, so I really didn't have a lot of time to look at the menu. Besides, all I wanted was just a basic burger - nothing that would mask the taste of the burger like I've run into on some of my first visits to a burger place. I just ordered a basic cheeseburger, topped with raw onions, pickles, mustard, and ketchup. I passed on their french fries and just got a small Coke to help wash it down.
The grill is directly behind the counter and there's a flurry of activity in plain view of the customers waiting for their burgers. While you wait, you can grab of handful of peanuts in the shell and throw the shells on the floor. I didn't do it, but I think they encourage it. They have these huge bags of peanuts stacked up that they use to pour peanuts into a large bucket that's sitting opposite the main counter.
A number of people that were coming in were picking up called-in orders to go. One guy was getting 20 burgers for the workers back at his office. I heard him say it was a nightmare figuring out the order and making sure that none of the burgers were the wrong combination.
After about 10 minutes, my burger came up and I took it to a table to give it a try. It was wrapped in light aluminum foil and the juices - some people will call it grease - were flowing out of the burger. Everything about the burger was very good. The meat was very fresh. The bun was a big plus. I was very impressed. It was a great combination. I can see why people have craved Five Guys for years.
The next time I try a Five Guys Burger, I'll dress it up a bit with more of the free condiments they provide. And the way they're growing, it won't be that hard to find a Five Guys Burgers in the near future.
Update February 2012 - I've been to a handful of Five Guys Burger places in the Midwest since my first visit to the one in Lee's Summit. Each Five Guys has had consistently good burgers. I got an order of fries one time at the Five Guys in Edina, MN and I was surprised to get about a pound and a half at the bottom of my sack. The fries at Five Guys are outstanding, but there's no way I could have even begun to think of eating them all.
Today there are Five Guys in 46 of the 48 continental United States - South Dakota and Wyoming are the only ones missing out. And rather interestingly, my home state of Iowa only has one - out in Sioux City. I don't know if Iowa's franchise laws are unfavorable, but there's not one in any of the larger cities in Central or Eastern Iowa. Hey, maybe that's the thing I should look into!