| Burgers |

What Is It About Houston and Burgers?

More Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurants are on their way to Houston. Last August, Robb Walsh told you about the new chain location at 24004 Southwest Freeway in Rosenberg brought in by John Hooff who told us he plans 10 in all in Houston

Now, the big kahuna Bob Dorfman, president of TCH (Tampa, Columbus, Houston) has hit town, ready to open two of what he says are the 50 franchise outlets he plans for the Houston area alone. (He's already in Tampa and this week is opening his first one in Columbus.) The first two spots on Dorfman's list are at the Kroger Center, 1645 S. Voss Road, and at the H-E-B Center, 9762 Katy Freeway, Suite 100, scheduled to open in the spring.

Here's how it works at Five Guys, which began as one restaurant in Arlington, Va. more than 20 years ago:

You walk in and order your food. There are only eight menu items: hamburger, hotdog (always Hebrew National), grilled cheese, veggie sandwich (not a veggie patty! Dorfman says), French Fries in regular size and large size (which feeds four) in regular or Cajun-spiced versions and a beverage. All the burgers are cooked well done, but are still juicy, according to Dorfman, who says they've always done it this way.

You can get the burger in "regular" which is two 3.3 ounce patties ($4.69) or "little" ($2.99) which is one patty. Then you select one or all of the 17 toppings (pickles, onions, mushrooms, etc.).

Then you have about seven minutes to wait while you chew on free peanuts.

Everything is fresh; there aren't any freezers in the place. They use peanut oil for the fries (no trans fat) and at many of their more than 370 locations, they have lines out the door. The word "cultish" is often applied to their customers, a description Dorfman does nothing to discourage.

So with all the other recent arrivals (Smashburger) and ramp-ups among existing burger makers, why bring more hamburgers to Houston?

"Houston is a great meat and potatoes market. It's got great demographics," Dorfman says. And the economy hasn't tanked here as much as in other places.

In keeping with the "freshness" motif, Dorfman says "secret shoppers" come through twice a week at every location. Employees make more money if the shoppers issue favorable reports on them. Customer service, cleanliness and quality - in the fight for the consumer's burger dollar, Dorfman says he's determined there will be no mistakes.

-- Margaret Downing

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