When word came down that Denver-based hamburger chain Smashburger was expanding in Los Angeles with a reported 60 (!) locations, I sort of felt for those party animals at In-N-Out headquarters. Sure, In-N-Out will always be crazy successful — but more for their “secret” menu and Oscar party catering than the actual burgers they sell. Because, the fact is, that burger they sell is typically average-to-yucky. The patties are often bland and over-cooked. Sometimes those patties are served in stupid amounts. Over-saucing runs rampant. It’s all really unimpressive. Also, Smashburger is really impressive.
A little over a year ago a location opened near my apartment in Downtown Brooklyn, just steps from a popular Shake Shack branch. I found myself visiting Smashburger more often. Why? The burger is good — cooked to order using a smashing technique that insures the freshly ground (never frozen) sirloin stays moist throughout.
The Smashburger model blends both takeout and fast-casual concepts — while serving smart products like fries dusted with rosemary and “hyper-local” burgers (avocado on a torta roll in San Diego; chopped green olives topping patties in Kalamazoo, Michigan). Guests order at the register and are given a number, with burgers arriving in under 10 minutes. So it feels like a real restaurant, but the prices remain under $8/meal.
Tim Ryan, the company’s partner and Chief Concept Officer, holds a Ph.D. in Flavor and Fragrance Chemistry and invented a number of popular fast food products like Stuffed Crust Pizza and the McGriddle while working in the R&D departments at some of the world’s largest fast food chains.
With Smashburger, he aimed to redefine the hamburger chain paradigm. He refuses to serve “double” burgers. He offers fry alternatives like flash-fried asparagus spears, carrot sticks and green beans. The veggie burger (made from beans) is not shitty.
But, the bottom line is that the burger is superior. And now with rapid expansion planned, as well as a national advertising rollout, more people will likely find this out.