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Burtons Grill & Bar

Boomer-Friendly Concept Kicks Casual Dining Up a Notch

Burtons Grill & Bar has been quietly positioning itself for growth over the past few years. It’s now poised to make some noise.

Armed with a new design prototype, a strong focus on customization and allergen awareness, and a commitment to hitting just the right note of culinary innovation to satisfy its Baby Boomer base, the upscale-casual chain is growing its sales and its footprint. President and CEO Kevin Harron, a casual-dining veteran who co-founded the Andover, Mass.-based chain in 2005, says 2018 and 2019 will be pivotal years for the brand as it works to expand in markets from New Hampshire to Florida.

Currently at 12 units — 5 in Massachusetts, 3 in Virginia, and 1 each in Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Hampshire — Burtons will grow to 15 by year’s end. New units are opening soon in Boca Raton, Fla.; Shrewsbury, Mass.; and Riverdale Park, Md.

“Burtons is going to continue expanding outside of the Northeast and following a strategy similar to that of a Houston’s or a Capital Grille, not putting multiple units in a particular area,” Harron says. “We’re establishing a base in Florida, opening a unit in Boca Raton in September and we’re in negotiations for sites in Naples and Tampa, as well. We feel North Carolina is a good place for us, too. We recently opened in Charlotte and we’re looking at sites in the Raleigh-Durham area.”

Targeting Baby Boomers with a taste for the finer things — and the money to pay for them — Burtons occupies a niche between casual and fine dining. The brand specializes in American cuisine, from classic burgers and hand-cut steaks to fresh seafood, pasta dishes and seasonally inspired chef-driven fare.

While a few of the original items remain, Burtons’ menu strategy has changed as dining trends have evolved. “When we first started, we did all composed plates — protein, vegetable, starch on every plate,” Harron says. “That’s how our target demographic grew up eating. But we’ve changed our thinking on the culinary side and updated our approach. We continue to offer many traditional presentations, but we’re also offering new menu items that appeal to the next wave of diners looking for more interesting, Instagrammable presentations, bolder flavors and specialty ingredients. We’re putting a much stronger focus on innovation and challenging our culinary teams to do more creative, local things to complement our core menu.”

As part of recent rebranding efforts, Burtons dropped separate lunch and dinner menus in favor of a one-menu-all-day format, a move designed to increase traffic by drawing in dinner guests who might prefer a $13 or $14 sandwich over a $25 entree. Harron says the strategy has worked: Check averages are down slightly as a result, to $54 or $55 per person with alcohol, but 10 of 12 Burtons units have increased guest counts significantly.

Custom Meal Options

Burtons’ menu includes specialty sandwiches such as California Chicken, featuring bronzed chicken, Black Forest ham, chipotle mayo, guacamole and Vermont cheddar on griddled ciabatta, and Short Rib Grilled Cheese, featuring braised certified Angus Beef short ribs with pickled onions, maple sriracha, Vermont cheddar and red wine jus. Signature entrees include Mediterranean Chicken Risotto with artichoke hearts, marinated tomatoes, spinach, basil, feta, lemon butter sauce and pesto, and Salmon Romesco with bronzed Maine salmon, Romesco sauce, herbed jasmine rice, vegetables and citrus fennel slaw.

Steaks are aged 21 days and hand-cut daily in-house. Customers with a preference for a particular size or cut of steak are encouraged to call in their request ahead of their visit to reserve a customized steak.

Such customization, along with what the chain promotes as its “legendary scratch kitchen,” is central to Burtons’ positioning. Over the years, its commitment to accommodating guests with dietary restrictions or allergies has been key as well. In 2017, Burtons topped the list of allergy-friendly small chains by rating service Allergy Eats.

“We have always offered customized meals, and from that, we started to get into a lot more allergy awareness and to build a protocol around that,” Harron says. “We also have a great children’s menu called {B} Choosy that’s modeled on the USDA’s MyPlate program. It allows kids to choose from a list of ingredients and preparation methods to customize their own nutritionally balanced meals.”

Like its menu, Burtons’ appearance has evolved to stay relevant and to better position it for renewed growth. A new prototype design introduced last year in Charlotte, N.C., and Alexandria, Va., proves to be the chain’s most dramatic change to date.

“We’ve had three design versions since launching, but this one was the most significant in terms of rebranding both the interior and exterior physical plan,” Harron says. “We think it’s really sharp and that it works for where we need to take the brand.”

Boston-based designer Peter Niemitz led the prototype redesign project, which introduces a new exhibition kitchen with a stone-hearth oven, a new color palette and an open floorplan with a large centralized bar. Design elements include dark-stained oak and decorative tile floors in the bar area, walnut wall coverings, a granite bar top, glazed brick columns and plush carpeting in the dining area. Deep browns and blues are accented by lighter shades of taupe. In the bar area, seating ranges from lounge style to high-top communal tables, while the dining room features classic upholstered chairs and booths. Lighting drops down from high, fully exposed ceilings.

Typical Burtons units run 6,200 square feet with seating for 200 inside, plus roughly 1,000 square feet of patio space seating another 40 to 50 guests outside. Most locations are either freestanding buildings or shopping-center endcaps.

Kitchen and back-of-the-house areas comprise roughly one-third of total space, and include the pantry, fry and saute stations and a stone-hearth oven.

“We wanted to get some of the visual energy and the great aromas from the kitchen into the dining room,” Harron says of the new open-kitchen design. “The end goal was to make our restaurants very sensual and to provide a high level of transparency and engagement. Staying competitive isn’t simply about serving good food and having good service anymore; you have to also provide an element of entertainment and fodder for social media sharing. That’s all part of our formula.”

Burtons Grill & Bar Snapshot

  • HQ: Andover, Mass.
  • Concept: Upscale casual dining
  • Founded: 2005
  • No. of Units: 12
  • Ownership: Burtons Grill LLC
  • Expansion Markets: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North and South Carolina, Florida
  • Franchising: No
  • Services: Lunch, dinner, takeout, Sunday brunch at some locations
  • Average Unit Size: 6,200 square feet
  • Average Kitchen Size: 2,000 square feet
  • Average Check: $55
  • Average Unit Volume: $4.1 million
  • Average Unit Cost: $2.7 million
  • Average Kitchen Equipment Package: $340,000
  • Mission-Critical Equipment: Stone-hearth oven, charbroilers, fryers, ranges, refrigeration equipment