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


Music, too, is strategically selected with the female demographic in mind. "We handpick every song on our playlist," Jednorowicz says. "Once we saw this core customer group developing, we shifted our playlist to include music that's not just female-friendly, but mom-friendly, targeting 35- to 45-year-old women with music from the mid-'70s to contemporary."

That approach, a blending of contemporary and nostalgia, carries over into the dining environment as well. Meatheads' interiors are designed to feel clean and modern, but also warm and comfortable. Simple lines, neutral colors, warm woods and black-and-white images of iconic scenes from the local community create an accessible, welcoming environment for families that's a notch above typical fast casual. Even the seating-style selections keep families in mind.

"We have a variety of different types of seating, but we try to include quite a few U-shaped booths in every unit," Jednorowicz says. "The reason is that when a family comes, the kids can slide into the middle with one adult on each end. They can see each other and interact, but they're also in a somewhat contained environment, which the parents appreciate."

In fact, he adds, that's an overriding goal at Meatheads: to create a place that kids love and adults appreciate – from the environment to the food to the service. Sure, kids love burgers, fries and shakes, but their parents appreciate the fact that "every item on the menu is fresh, natural, made to order and has a more healthy pedigree associated with it than a lot of the stuff that's available out there in places with price points similar to ours," Jednorowicz explains.

"They appreciate that we look for opportunities to anticipate their needs and take care of them. When a mom walks in with a toddler in hand and a baby on her hip, she's probably going to need a baby chair and a booster. We have someone greeting guests as they come in and getting a table ready for them while they're ordering. We make sure that mom has a baby seat and booster ready. We deliver the food to the tables, refill drinks and run extras, and do the bussing. It's still fast casual in that they order at the counter and there's no tipping, but we try to make the entire experience more like full service."

Kitchens Geared to Fast, Fresh Prep

From an operations standpoint, Meatheads strives to maintain a seven-minute-or-less window for food delivery from the time an order goes live. Making their selections from menu boards suspended above, customers place orders at a front counter, which in most units holds two point-of-sale machines. Meatheads also uses iPads as a secondary order-placement option, primarily for "line busting," Jednorowicz says.

Each unit has a front kitchen that measures roughly 500 square feet and a smaller back kitchen of roughly 300 square feet. That back space is used primarily for dry storage and the walk-in cooler. Jednorowicz points out that because all food is fresh and prepared to order, there are no microwaves or freezers, except those used to hold ice cream for shakes.

The front kitchen, which in newer units is surrounded by a five-foot wall that allows guests to hear a bit of the action and supports the fresh-prep aspect of the concept, is where staff prepare all foods to order. The back line of each front kitchen contains two grills, one used exclusively for burgers, the other for other grilled items, such as hot dogs, chicken and specialty sandwiches. Next to the grills is a bank of fryers — three for french fries and the fourth used exclusively for the new chicken tenders. Staff bread chicken tenders to order at a station adjacent to the fryer. Next to that station is the potato-cutting area, where staff cut fries daily.

"Rarely do we use all three of the french fry fryers during service hours," Jednorowicz explains. "When we really need them is in the blanching process. Every morning, we take the potatoes that were cut the day before and left to soak in water in large, wheeled containers to remove the starch. First they're rinsed; then we blanch them. Then they get put on trays and are brought down to at least room temperature. When we're actively frying them to serve, we're typically
using just two of the fryers."

The front line of the front kitchen includes a shake station with a three-spindle shake machine and an ice cream freezer, as well as a make station positioned near the grills. "The order ticket from the POS machine comes out at the make station, and the employees there place what's needed on the grill, toast the buns and start preparing them with the appropriate toppings while the proteins are cooking. The order makes its way down assembly-line style to the expediter at the end of the line. That person consolidates what's coming off the grill with the buns, matching it up with the fries or chicken tenders from the fry station, before turning it over to the server to deliver to the table."