Anyone around Los Angeles who has paid attention even remotely to the comings and goings of restaurants has by now seen signs for Burgerim. The Israeli-born miniature burger chain first sputtered into the American market with an odd early franchise attempt in West Hollywood, ultimately pulling up stakes for a full retool and relaunch into the market last year.
In the 15 months since that first Hollywood location on Melrose came to life, there have been nine other Los Angeles-area openings for Burgerim, from Mar Vista to Glendale to Santa Clarita. More than a dozen others will come soon to Southern California, per the company’s own website. But two big questions remain: How, and why?
Southern California is the spiritual center of America’s obsession with cheeseburgers. The blend of beef and bun and cheese is said to have been first concocted in Pasadena, and popularized through countless regional burger chains — spurred on in many cases by the rise of fast food, freeways, and the freewheeling 1950s and ‘60s. Los Angeles is In-N-Out, it’s ground beef cheeseburger tacos that date to the 1940s. So how has one international chain managed to keep such a relatively low profile while adding almost a dozen locations in well under a year? And what’s behind the plan for absolute market saturation in a part of the country so thoroughly dominated by burger places already?
Not that Burgerim keeps its expansion a secret, or limits outlets to Southern California. In the same year since first arriving back in Los Angeles, Burgerim has launched restaurants in nearly a dozen other states. Diners can now find Burgerims in Las Vegas, in Florida (both west and south), Texas, two in Tennessee, and many more beyond. There are 103 domestic locations listed across the United States on the company’s own page, with all but 16 of them still to come. This, from a company that carries less than 300 Twitter followers, and hasn’t posted since the middle of March.
“We think of Burgerim the way people think of Starbucks,” says Burgerim’s Chief Marketing Officer Ashley Lindley Shaffer “We don’t want one on every corner yet, but that’s not far off.”
Like fellow customizable burger chain The Counter, Burgerim’s American interests are actually headquartered in Los Angeles (which helps explain the local concentration, despite the larger franchise model). The Encino-based company essentially lets their offices act as a bullseye for the brand, with concentric outward circles of franchise locations all over the Southland. Interestingly enough, Burgerim does not have large clusters of franchisees like other chains, where people might own 20 or 30 McDonald’s at a time. Right now, they’re only selling individual Burgerim packages to one franchisee at a time — and almost anyone can get in.
The franchise fee to bring a Burgerim to life is $30,000, compared to $45,000 for a Taco Bell or just $15,000 for a Subway. There are the added costs of rent, build-out, and product, of course, not having those offset by a large franchisee means individual owners are more likely to be invested in the personal success of each location they build.
That’s the secret sauce for Burgerim: vertical franchisee integration, one face at a time. “We have a loan department, we have a real estate department,” says Shaffer. “We have trainers that come in once you’ve built out your space that train you as well as your staff.” Burgerim corporate doesn’t look for operators with previous restaurant experience or franchise deals under their belt; it’s all about growing big, fast, and honing the process along the way.
Ultimately Burgerim is not alone in deciding that Los Angeles still has room to expand in the hamburger market. Other international chains like Hollywood Burger and Caliburger have jumped into the fray in recent years, but so far seem content to handle one, maybe two localized outlets apiece. Boston franchise Wahlburgers is still en route to the city with a couple of locations planned, and it wasn’t long ago that Shake Shack’s LA expansion was still a glimmer in the city’s eye.
Still, Burgerim has been remarkably unique in the forcefulness with which it has taken on the Southern California burger market. They believe their model is unique as well, offering a vast array of customization between meats, toppings, buns, and sides. A diner can get beef in one burger, merguez sausage in another, lamb in a third, and round out a four-pack with a salmon burger just as easily. Burgerim swears that customization and choice are the future guideposts for fast food models moving forward, and they lean on the high foot traffic at their Melrose and Montclair locations as proof of concept. If there’s a burger for every kind of potential diner, and a franchise for every kind of potential owner, Burgerim would argue that it’s hard to lose. And they may, in fact, be right.
The company has said publicly that it hopes to have thousands of Burgerim locations in just a few short years, with hundreds of those spread across the United States alone. For now the company plans to keep drilling down deep into the greater Los Angeles market, with Marina Del Rey on the horizon. After that: the world.