Meatheads: A Suburban, Family-Friendly Riff on the Better-Burger Theme

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Typical busy shifts field 15 employees, including 9 in the kitchen. Managers are cross-trained to be able to step in and help out both in the front and back of the house as needed.

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Employees manning the POS machines are also trained to act more like servers in a full-service restaurant, explaining the menu and guiding customers to what they want. They also follow a strict policy of no up-selling. "We want to make sure people get what they want, but we don't up-sell. It's very easy in a couple of button pushes on the register to take an $8.50 check, which is our average, and jack it up to $12," he notes. "But the customer walks away saying, 'Gee, that was a lot more expensive than what I had anticipated,' and the frequency or potential frequency of that customer diminishes dramatically. Our concept is built on revenue generation through frequency of visits. Keeping our check average low is important."

While Meatheads is Chicago-based, it currently has just one unit within the city limits, and even that unit is outside of the downtown area. That's by design, and speaks to a development strategy driven by the company's intense focus on families.

"What we look for are spaces where Mom or Dad can bring the kids in for dinner on their way home from hockey practice or dance or gymnastics," Jednorowicz says. "There needs to be an element of convenience to stopping at Meatheads, and that has to do with being able to park, to easily get in and out, and get home."

The company's first ground-up freestanding building is under construction in the northern Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood.

Jednorowicz expects to have 5 or 6 new units in operation by the end of this year, in addition to the 11 already open. All are company owned, and growth beyond that will continue at a similar pace, with five to eight new restaurants anticipated per year. Franchising is currently not in the cards.

While future expansion may take Meatheads outside of its home territory, particularly farther south in Illinois, Jednorowicz feels there's "plenty of green pastures here." At least in the near term, the company will remain focused on further developing suburban Chicago markets and leveraging the brand awareness and customer loyalty that it has worked hard to establish there.

Key Players

  • Founder/CEO: Tom Jednorowicz
  • Co-Founder/Partner: Doug Reichl
  • Director of Operations: Jason Harbison
  • Controller: Brian Landstrom
  • Area Operations Manager: Jason Loop
  • Marketing Manager: Joe Sanders
  • Food Distributor(s): Sysco Central Illinois, Get Fresh Produce
  • Smallwares Dealer: Edward Don & Co.
  • Equipment Dealer: ADE Restaurant Services
  • Architect: OHR Consulting, Westchester, Ill.
  • Design: Kitty Carlson
  • Menu Development: Carl Carbone, Restaurant Consulting Services

Facts of Note

  • Year Founded: 2007
  • Headquarters: Chicago
  • Menu Signatures: Fresh, natural, made-to-order burgers and chicken, hand-cut fries, hand-dipped shakes
  • Service Model: fast casual
  • Services: Dine-in, takeout, drive-thru at some locations
  • No. of Units: 11 (All are company owned.)
  • Annual Sales: $17 million (2013 projection)
  • Typical Location: Endcap and freestanding. The first ground-up building is in development.
  • Key Expansion Markets: Greater Chicagoland area, downstate Illinois
  • Hours of Operation: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Average Customers/Transactions per Day: 450
  • Average Check Size: $8.50 per person
  • Average Unit Size: 2,400 square feet, 90 seats
  • Total Unit Cost: $450,000
  • Average Kitchen Space: 800 square feet
  • Total Equipment Investment per Unit: $115,000 including hoods
  • Website: www.meatheadsburgers.com
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