Cheeburger Cheeburger may not be available in every state, but where it is available, it’s usually a local favorite. Media outlets in 29 cities have voted it the best burger in town, and Kansas voted it the best in the entire state in the Kansas Best 150 – a media-sponsored event that lists the best of Kansas in celebration of its 150-year statehood anniversary.
The ringing endorsements make sense. Cheeburger has been a leader in making worthwhile food for more than two decades. It was one of the first to transition to 100 percent-certified Angus beef, and two years ago it began serving only all-natural protein products, with no additives or fillers.
And it’s not just the burgers that make Cheeburger so appealing. In an economy where food companies and restaurants have skimped on size and ingredients, Cheeburger remains committed to its plethora of choices, such as more than 300,000 milkshake flavor combinations, 25 free burger toppings and an onion ring batter that’s so good the company literally packages and sells it.
“What has remained the same is the general concept of selling a high-quality, fresh product,” President and COO Sam Lundy says. “That has been the cornerstone since inception, and we just continue on that basic cornerstone and improve over the years.”
But it’s not just the cooked-to-order food that makes Cheeburger what it is. The 1950s-themed locations, which average 2,400 to 2,800 square feet, are fit out with nostalgic pieces such as dining counters, neon lights and signs and posters from decades past, while hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s play in the background. Customers also receive the five-star treatment. Table service and employees who pull out chairs, hand out menus and care enough to learn your first name all add to its appeal.
Customers receive the same quality at Cheeburger express locations located in airports and colleges. “With times being tough and people being selective about where they spend their money, you have to do things like that,” Lundy says. “It’s always been a practice of ours whether the economy is good, bad or indifferent.”
That service is soon to spread north as Cheeburger, which marks its 25-year anniversary this December, finalizes construction on its first Canadian franchise. The company was approached by a loyal Maryland customer who, after relocating to Canada, asked Cheeburger about opening restaurants in Quebec and Ontario. One year later, the company, in partnership with its newly inducted franchisee, will open a downtown Montreal location at the end of July.
Lundy says this quick turnaround from business proposal to operating restaurant is fostered by a corporate culture that resembles a family more than a bureaucracy. “We are a very flat company,” Lundy explains. “When we have a new franchise, we say, ‘Welcome to the family.’ It may be a cliché, but for us it’s not. It really is what we’re all about and how we’re united as a company.”
Its franchisees agree. In 2010, Cheeburger ranked among the 50 restaurant chains with the most satisfied franchisees in Franchise Business Review. Lundy says all franchisees have direct communication with the corporate office. Lundy and other corporate leaders are in a restaurant every day, helping their partners in the field.
“We have an office in Fort Meyers, Fla., but all our corporate people work from home,” Lundy says. “We are all strategically located throughout the country where our stores are, so if there is a problem, someone can get to a store within a couple of hours.”
Though problems arise in every industry and in any company, Cheeburger takes a proactive approach to maintain its high standards. It visits and certifies all its vendors’ facilities at least once a year and more frequently for its core vendors. The company planned to finish certifying its new vendor partners for its Canadian franchises by mid-June.
“We go to tour these plants and so we understand the process,” Director of Training and Menu Development Jeff Jablow says. “We know the people around the plant, and that makes a big impact on our relationships with these vendors.” Lundy explains that forming long-term partnerships helps the company keep costs down, which is why it can still offer customers the same number of seemingly impossible food choices. It also works with vendors with sustainable programs that source locally.
Cheeburger doesn’t just expect the best in food safety from its vendors – it sets the same expectations for itself. Ten years ago it made a commitment to have each location HACCP-certified, and it makes sure to document all incoming product. That way, if there is an issue with any product, Cheeburger can trace it back to the source within 30 minutes.
If you took the time to Google us, you would find so many sites devoted to us that were not created by us.
And of course behind all these practices are the people who implement them on a day-to-day basis. Cheeburger franchise owners and managers are trained in its only corporate-owned store in Houston. For other staff – many of them of the technology-driven age – Jablow has created a program where employees can download applications that train them on different stations in the restaurant. The managers are able to track each employee’s progress.
Then they are ready to deliver that Cheeburger customer service that Jablow says keeps customers coming back again and again, some of whom even attempt the pounder challenge. Eating the 20-ounce Famous Pounder will earn your picture on the wall.
“If you took the time to Google us, you would find so many sites devoted to us that were not created by us,” he says. “We’ve become a big part of people’s lives. When we travel, people will see our shirts with the Cheeburger logo on it and say, ‘My picture is on your wall,’ or ‘My grandfather used to take me to your restaurant.’ The value of Cheeburger is not just in the good food, but in our exceptional service.”