Q&A: Jimmy Loup, CEO/Founder Grub Burger Bar, College Station, Texas
After a 20-year career in the restaurant industry, Jimmy Loup had a goal: to open just one successful burger restaurant in his chosen town of College Station, Texas. “I realized it was a peculiar place to be, but this is where I wanted to live,” he says.
Grub Burger Bar opened its first location in March of 2012, and the level of success was greater than anticipated. Over the next two years, Loup opened up three more Texas locations in Dallas, Houston and Midland, before expanding to Atlanta, Philadelphia and Lafayette, La. Second sites in Atlanta and Philadelphia, along with a Tallahassee, Fla., Grub Burger Bar, were in the works at press time.
In this case “grub” is not just a moniker for food, but is also used as an acronym to describe the concept’s mission of hiring Good people, serving Real food, creating a Unique vibe and providing Big flavors.
FE&S spoke with Loup about the evolution of Grub Burger Bar, how this concept takes “from scratch” to the next level and what the future holds for this growing operation.
FE&S: Grub Burger Bar is not a typical fast-casual concept. Describe your operation.
JL: What I find most frustrating with full-service restaurants is waiting to get the check. We’re a fast-casual business that is positioned well. Our customers order and pay at the register, then the food is delivered to their table. To build our dinner daypart, we have a full-service bar at each location. This adds energy, while providing another service option. Still, our menu prices are value oriented.
FE&S: It can be difficult to differentiate the menu in a burger operation. How do you accomplish this?
JL: Despite my extensive cooking experience, I needed professional expertise in developing our menu. After traveling the country sampling what the burger industry had to offer, we recruited Christopher Lampo, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and owner of a popular local restaurant, to help us out. While we’ve stayed consistent with our burger types, we offer a market burger each month, which allows us to test new items. Our most popular is our basic burger called the Front Porch. This includes lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard. Our Lockhart Legend also is a favorite. It’s topped with applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar, house-made Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce, two hand-battered onion rings and sliced pickles. Sides include fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries and a black-bean-and-corn salsa medley. We also offer chicken, salmon, tuna and vegetarian burgers as well as four salad types.
FE&S: Grub Burger Bar’s concept revolves around scratch cooking, which is not typical in the segment. Can you describe how that works?
JL: We make everything from scratch, including our burger patties and buns. We have a designated grind room, where the meat is prepared every day. We also bake our buns from scratch every hour using flour, yeast and salt. We do this with mixers and dough rounders, the latter of which was demonstrated to us by the manufacturer and took about eight months of training to perfect. We’re also passionate about our sauces and dressings, which are all made in house.
FE&S: And what about your operation’s unique way of handling leftover buns?
JL: Each day, our locations bag the leftover buns and store them in a locked steel box that includes a slot for customers to donate money. We give it all to a charity of the restaurant’s choice each month.
FE&S: The concept’s front-of-house decor does not reflect its name. Can you walk us through the different elements of the design?
JL: Our dining room ambiance is in contrast to our name, as is our elegant logo. We had a boutique architect create our design, which is warm and industrial, but very polished. It incorporates steel, concrete and two-by-fours. Because our locations are leased existing sites and not new builds, sizes vary from 3,800 to 4,000 square feet. Seating capacity is typically between 110 to 150, with an average of 125. Our bars accommodate between 10 and 18 customers.
FE&S: How do the kitchen and equipment support Grub Burger Bar’s menu?
JL: Our kitchens can range from between 800 and 1,200 square feet, but are typically 1,000 square feet on average. This consists of a cookline with a prep space behind it and a separate grind room and walk-in area. The production centers around the flattop grill, where burgers are cooked. Buns are baked in a double convection oven after being prepared with the mixer and dough rounder. There also is a fry bank with four fryers. Another workhorse of the kitchen is our shake machine.
FE&S: What are the most important factors when choosing equipment for Grub Burger Bar’s locations?
JL: Grill recovery time has been critical, and we did our homework from the beginning. Also, the quality of the fryers is key, since these get banged up and used quite a bit. We’re currently testing new fry heat lamp systems. Our ovens have been fairly consistent. When purchasing equipment, we look for value but don’t want to go too cheap, since we require good quality equipment that lasts. Our vice president of development, Bill Daniel, who formerly worked for the Bennigan’s and Outback chains, made some tweaks and brand changes. This was not because equipment wasn’t working, but to get a better overall package. These changes were more from a value-engineering standpoint.
FE&S: The burger segment is one of the most competitive. How is your operation keeping pace with the trends and overcoming challenges?
JL: Commodity price increases are something everyone has had to fight. Many restaurants are raising prices as a result, but because Grub Burger Bar is value oriented, we’re working on the back end to be more efficient. It comes down to operations, which is our focus. Restaurants that perform well will prevail.
FE&S: Grub Burger Bar has been on a steady growth plan since its inception. What are your plans for the year ahead?
JL: We plan on opening between 8 and 10 more restaurants this year. We will make sure that we continue to focus on our foundation, since we have a deep infrastructure of support.