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There goes the beef

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  • | 7:08 a.m. November 11, 2013
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Square 1 Burgers & Bar is ready for other shapes, and locations.

The Tampa-based burger chain plans to open four new Florida locations by the middle of next year. That would bring the statewide total to 10, including two locations in Sarasota and one each in Brandon, Fort Myers, St. Petersburg and Tampa. New stores are planned for Carrollwood, Gainesville, Lakeland and the Villages.

“Burgers are the rage right now,” Square 1 President and CEO Joanie Corneil tells Coffee Talk. “There's always a cream of the crop, and we happen to be in it right now.”

Square 1 bought the building for the Gainesville location, while the other three will be leased. All of the company's restaurants are company-owned, through a network of private investors. There are no franchise locations, and Corneil says that's not a current part of the company's strategy.

The strategy, instead, is to focus on providing a gourmet burger experience through a menu, with Angus and Kobe beef options, that's the anti-fast casual approach. Square 1 is waiter-waitress service with a full bar, which Corneil says separates it from the Five Guys and Burger 21s of the world. “I don't like fast casual,” says Corneil. “I enjoy being waited on.”

Corneil and business partner Bill Shumate opened the first Square 1 in 2008 on Henderson Boulevard in Tampa. Corneil and Shumate also own Bella's Italian Cafe, a popular eatery in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Tampa. Corneil's husband, Tampa accountant Ray Leich, is a co-owner in Square 1.

An Oklahoma native who grew up on a cow farm, Corneil says one of her biggest challenges right now, expansion or otherwise, is food costs. Angus, for example, runs $3.58 per pound — an 89.4% increase from 2008, when it cost $1.89 per pound.

Beyond that, Corneil seeks to make sure management and employee training is top shelf in the four new locations. “The consistency has to be there in this business,” she says. “If not, you're dead.”


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