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GOOD NEWS FOR BURGER PURISTS

Five Guys, with fresh, lean beef and hand-cut fries, is coming downtown and elsewhere around Pinellas.

Downtowners have watched the past few years as the steel and glass Progress Energy building layered stacks of offices, but little did they know that at its base would follow stacks of meat.

The ground floor may soon be home to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a chain that is spreading throughout the area faster than mayo on a bun.

Though the deal has not yet closed, the Pinellas Park location in the Shoppes at Park Place is advertising the new downtown spot as one of several coming online this year.

"It's a hidden little secret," said Melisa French, who handles finding locations for the county franchise owner, John Nguyen.

Five Guys serves fresh-meat burgers dressed in an assortment of complementary toppings, accompanied only by hand-cut fries. Hot dogs and drinks add to the menu, but it ends there, simple and direct for the burger lover. Bags of free peanuts tide you over until the patties are done.

Nguyen opened the first Pinellas County franchise last year and plans about 18 more. Coming this month is one at 3700 Ulmerton Road in Clearwater, followed by one in April at 13678 Walsingham Road in Largo.

The downtown spot should open in July, with an East Lake store in September and by year's end yet another near Tyrone Square Mall. But French said people are most excited about the downtown restaurant.

Five Guys is a family business that started near Washington, D.C., in 1986 and remained a small enterprise until it started franchising five years ago.

Now there are about 240 franchises around the United States, mostly on the East Coast, and a growing list of accolades.

The chain has earned "best burger" awards from publications in Philadelphia, Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., Delaware and Washington, D.C.

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

FAST FACTS

Five Guys growing quickly

fiveguys.com

Open at:

Park Place, The Shoppes at Park Place

7056 U.S. 19 N

Pinellas Park, FL 33781

(727) 526-7800

Coming soon to:

Progress Energy Building

299 First Ave. N

St. Petersburg, FL 33762

Ulmerton Road Plaza

3700 Ulmerton Road

Clearwater, FL 33762

Westshore Center

13678 Walsingham Road

Largo, FL 33774

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