The inspiration for a restaurant concept can come from all sorts of places. Chains have emerged from the food someone had on a great vacation, from a barbecue hobby and even from dumb dorm room jokes.
Add to this list Good Burger, a five-location concept based in Idaho that got its start as an assignment in a Notre Dame grad school class. One student in that class was Nicholas Jones, Good Burger’s founder and owner. “When I was getting my MBA, I took a social impact class,” Jones says. “It focused primarily on the bottom of the pyramid stuff. I created a growth plan in 2013 aimed at creating a company that could do the most good.”
Jones’ plan started with a food booth at events like county fairs, an expansion into food trucks and eventually the opening of a brick-and-mortar restaurant that could support a nonprofit.
While it was just a project at the time, that’s more or less the path Jones followed. After earning his MBA, he looked around for his next opportunity. Deciding to work for himself, he started a bacon-on-a-stick business that operated at fairs and events, parlayed that into a food truck, and then in 2017, opened the first Good Burger location in Boise, Idaho.
Since that time, Good Burger has grown steadily, with five locations and four more on the way. The success of the chain allows the business to start fulfilling its mission of helping people at the bottom.
This help starts, says Jones, in the communities where Good Burger operates. The chain offers free meals to the hungry, gives out coats to the homeless at wintertime, and invests in local job training and job placement programs.
The good the chain wants to do extends beyond the communities where it operates. Jones’ vision includes having an impact outside the U.S. in countries and communities with great need. In November 2018, Good Burger began this work by sending several people, including Jones, to the Dominican Republic, where they worked in a refugee camp teaching personal hygiene classes, handed out supplies and (via the dentists with them) performed dental work.
What Makes a Good Burger?
Good Burger, of course, has a dual meaning. There’s the social good the concept wants to do. Then there are the burgers themselves, which Jones describes as “great, not just good.”
Good Burger makes its burgers to order. The menu includes chef-created options as well as fully customizable burgers with ingredients ranging from the standards like lettuce and tomato to offerings like goat cheese, teriyaki glaze, fresh avocado and sweet chili aoli.
The burgers start with local grass-fed beef, with an optional upgrade to Kobe beef. The staff selects the buns for each burger based on how well the bread pairs with the meat, says Jones. Though purchased from a large food distributor, much of the produce comes from local growers.
The end result, Jones says, is a near-gourmet experience. “When you take a bite of our burger, you don’t taste the bun, then the meat then the mayo,” he says. “What you taste is all of it at the same time because each of the flavors complement the others. You get the whole flavor, not just bits and pieces and parts.”
Creating a kitchen for making custom burgers differs greatly from the straight assembly line at a lot of burger joints, especially the quick-serve restaurants, says Jones.
The Good Burger team had two main goals for this project. One was to keep everything each line cook would need within arm’s reach, or at most a step away. That setup helps greatly with speed of service in a kitchen where the culinary team makes food to order.
In addition to creating a compact space, the work at each station is simple enough that team members can swap in and out as necessary. This allows the restaurant to operate with as few as two employees during slow periods, with one in the back of the house and one up front. It also helps Good Burger address the perpetual labor shortage in the sector, says Jones.
“It’s about getting rid of steps in such a way that any person can come in and continue the process with minimal training,” says Jones. “There’s turnover in the restaurant industry. Steps need to be simple enough that if one person leaves, another can come in and take over the process.”
The flow of work in Good Burger’s kitchen starts with a ticket printer on the end of the cold line, which faces the dining area. When a customer places an order, the staffer at the flattop grill, which sits immediately across from the printer, turns around and grabs the ticket. At that point, the staffer turns back to the flattop and retrieves the raw beef patty, chicken breast or veggie burger from the refrigerated drawers below the griddle and begins cooking.
During the lunch and dinner rush, a second staffer, working the cold line, will place a bun in the toaster next to the kitchen printer. To reduce labor costs, the grill cook handles this task during off-peak times, pulling from a set of buns on a shelf above the griddle.
Keeping the buns in the line of sight is key, says Jones. This way culinary staff members have everything they need right in front of them. “What happens is when people turn around, they forget what’s going on,” he explains. “If staff have the tickets and the buns in front of them, they don’t forget. They can grab the bun and put it in the toaster so that we can keep less than five minutes service times. Otherwise, staffers will cook a patty and completely forget to toast a bun. That adds another 20 seconds to the time.”
A cooked burger returns to the cold line. Next to the toaster, a staffer at a refrigerated table with cold wells holding cheese and veggies assembles the sandwich. The burger then slides down to a worktable, where a staffer wraps it, pairs the order with any sides, then sends the food through the expo window. Depending on the level of activity in the restaurant, a team member in the front of the house will then either deliver the meal to the guest’s table or call out the guest’s name so they can pick the meal up at the counter.
While the journey of the burger completes with the pickup, there’s more going on in the kitchen. Next to the flattop on the hot line sit two fryers, which the chain uses for french fries and onion rings. Immediately after the fryers is a fry warmer sitting on a small worktable.
The chain stores the food it cooks in the fryers in three nearby refrigeration pieces. The table where staff wrap burgers sits atop an undercounter freezer holding fries and onion rings.
Immediately next to the fry warming station, meanwhile, a glass-door refrigerator holds produce, juice boxes and iced coffee. Past that unit sits an upright freezer holding more fries and onion rings.
While it may seem odd to have the upright fryer freezer away from the fryer, this setup works to minimize steps, Jones says. By placing the glass-door refrigerator next to the fry warmers, it is just a step away from the person wrapping the burgers and assembling meals. This gives them quick access to the juice and iced coffee necessary to complete some orders.
The location of the upright freezer follows that same principle. In the morning, staffers stock both the undercounter and upright freezers with fries and other items. The fry cook uses the undercounter unit below the finishing table as the main source for fries, etc. When that unit is running low on product, someone can quickly refill it by transferring product from the upright unit.
“I didn’t want anyone to have to take extra steps. Even though there’s an extra step between the fryers and the upright freezer, during the lunch rush there’s just one step from the fryer to the undercounter freezer and from the undercounter freezer to the upright freezer,” says Jones.
Reducing steps also takes top priority at Good Burger when it comes to cold storage design. Ideally, says Jones, restaurants will build their walk-in coolers and freezers together, sharing a wall. In this setup, the walk-ins will be close enough to the kitchen that staffers can quickly get to the freezer for more fries. At the same time, the walk-in cooler will sit close to a front-of-the-house beer wall, making it easy for the chain to run lines from kegs to taps.
The footprint of Good Burger’s restaurants doesn’t always allow for both of these, Jones acknowledges. In such cases, the priority in the design phase will be to keep the freezer close to the kitchen, since staffers have to restock fries more often than they have to swap out kegs or grab more produce.
While Good Burger’s kitchen design minimizes steps and labor, the dining area setup creates an experience, not just a place to eat.
Guests walking into a Good Burger find themselves almost immediately at the point-of-sale station. The queue actually flows right out the door in the summer — an intentional direction. This, says Jones, helps draw attention, and hopefully guests, to the restaurant. “We do that purposely during the summer months, so people see that there is a line, that the line is moving, and they think, ‘Hey, let’s go get some food there.’ ”
Upon placing their orders, guests will find a space with an open ambience and industrial appearance. The restaurants feature an open ceiling with exposed ductwork, wood tabletops with black metal bases and a concrete floor with an epoxy coating swirled to look like flowing water. This swirl, notably, ties in with the white porcelain counter that houses the POS station and nearby counter seating. These guests have the best view of the restaurant’s open kitchen, which adds some energy and excitement to the space.
Along with their food, guests at Good Burger have their choice of beers. Guests can choose from 4 beer selections available on tap behind the counter, with another 20 available from taps on the restaurant’s self-serve beer wall. Customers who want to pour their own receive a RFID-enabled wristband that links to their tab. When participating guests want a drink, they simply scan their wristband and serve themselves, with each round showing up on their final bill.
Any establishment with more than 20 beers on tap certainly wants people to enjoy themselves, and Good Burger is no different. The chain, says Jones, is designed for those open to meeting and talking with new people. The interior completely eschews televisions to encourage such interactions, while sliding garage-style doors — open in warm months — give the restaurant a fun, welcoming feel.
And instead of filling the restaurant with booths, which tend to isolate parties, options include floating standard-height tables with chairs and bar-height tables without chairs, where guests can gather around with a beer and a burger.
“There’s a certain type of individual who wants to come and experience different people. They want to sit down and talk with people they don’t know. The way we have the space designed encourages that. It encourages people to come back and interact rather than go into zombie mode,” Jones says.
This approach has clearly served Good Burger well, with five units open in two years, along with several more in development. The chain’s growth should continue at an even stronger pace in the years to come. The chain, Jones says, should hit 50 locations within the next six years through expansion in the chain’s existing markets of Idaho and Utah, as well as two growth markets: California and Nevada.
Jones wants to keep most restaurants company owned. That’s not to say he won’t take on partners, though. In fact, he licensed one of the existing five locations, and he expects to form similar partnerships in the future.
The chain, Jones stresses, is about more than profit. It’s about making a difference in its communities and beyond. Achieving that goal requires committed partners. That’s the way this company can live up to the mission that’s right in its name, he says.
“It’s not called Good Burger because the burger is good. It’s called good because of what the company does,” Jones says.
Good Burger at a Glance
- Key players: Nicholas Jones, CEO; Rob Carnes, chief operating officer; Josh Griffin, general manager of the Downtown Boise location and key trainer to employees;
Sam Little, Utah expansion leader; Mike Hanselman, general manager of the Boise Towne Square location and chief marketing officer
- Interior designer: Amelia Jones
- Kitchen design consultant: David Meek, Bar Store Restaurant Design & Supplies, Boise, Idaho
- Equipment dealer: Bar Store Restaurant Design & Supplies
Facts of Note
- Chain headquarters: Bosie, Idaho
- Year founded: 2017
- Signature menu items: Good Burger (lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, American cheese and house-made Good Sauce); Nick Burger (mayo, lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon, ranch dressing); french fries
- Number of units: Five currently operating, four in the design or construction phase
- Unit size: 1,400 square feet (900 front of the house and 500 back of the house)
- Seats per unit: Approximately 55
- Location type: Endcap or inline; high-traffic areas.
- Total system sales: $3.83 million
- Unit growth projections: 50 units by 2026
- Check average: $15.67
- Equipment package cost: $142,015