Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries is staking a claim in Pinellas County — all of it.
Virginia businessman John Nguyen is bringing the popular restaurant, noted for its burgers and fries, to shopping centers and plazas throughout the county.
He opened the first restaurant recently at the Shoppes at Park Place in Pinellas Park. The second restaurant opened Feb. 20 at 3700 Ulmerton Plaza on Ulmerton Road near Largo. An April opening is planned for the third in a building that already displays the Five Guys name in large letters at Westside Center on Walsingham Road in Largo.
Nguyen is also planning two restaurants in St. Petersburg — Shoppes at the Royale in the Tyrone area and the Progress Energy Tower — and one in East Lake in North Pinellas.
He said he expects to open about 18 branches in Pinellas County during the next five or six years.
"We plan to hit the main arteries in Pinellas and then branch out to the beaches," said Melisa French, an independent Clearwater broker who assists Nguyen and other franchisees in Pasco, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties in finding restaurant sites. "We want to cover the market, but we don't want to saturate it."
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The Five Guys menu hasn't budged in more than 20 years.
It features burgers with all the trimmings, fries, kosher hot dogs and veggie or grilled cheese sandwiches. Nothing is frozen and everything is prepared fresh each day. Even the buns are baked in-house.
Customers can munch on free peanuts while waiting for their orders and Coca-Cola drinks are available.
All the restaurants have red and white checkered tile on the walls and are decorated with copies of news stories and customer quotes. Customers can eat in or take out. The restaurants don't have drive-through windows and don't deliver.
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Here's how it began.
When Jerry and Janie Murrell's three oldest sons — Chad, Jim and Matt — were about to graduate from high school, the couple offered them two choices. They could use the money set aside for them for college or they could use it to start a small hamburger and fries business. They took the money and became "Five Guys," including their younger brothers Ben and Tyler in the name.
The first Five Guys restaurant opened in 1986 in Arlington, Va. It developed a cult following and, after winning awards, the young entrepreneurs had enough capital to launch several more restaurants in northern Virginia. They began to franchise in late 2002.
Today, there are 249 restaurants in 18 states. All but 30 are franchises, said Molly Catalano, who is Five Guys' public relations manager. "We're already in Wisconsin and we're planning to open locations this year in Colorado, Missouri, Texas and California," she said.
Franchisees pay $45,000 for the rights to the franchise, Catalano said, and then invest $250,000 to $600,000 to open their restaurants.
The company's corporate headquarters is in Lorton, Va., and all seven members of the Murrell family still work in the business, Catalano said.
"There's always room for more burger restaurants," she said. "We're able to fill a niche and people seem to like us."
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Nguyen ate his first hamburger at a Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries restaurant two years ago. It changed his life.
"I happened to walk into one of the restaurants in Virginia," he said. "It was so good. I've tried many burgers, but Five Guys is the best."
The businessman enjoyed the burger so much he decided to buy a franchise. He was impressed not only by the runaway success of the business, but the simplicity of the menu, the quality of the product and the friendly atmosphere.
"I thought I cannot go wrong if I join Five Guys," Nguyen said.
Christina K. Cosdon can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4154.