The man who invented McGriddles and Stuffed Crust Pizza, with a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry, is delivering his soulful love of a good burger to the Gulf Coast.
It comes in the form of Smashburger, a rapidly growing fast-casual restaurant chain founded in Denver in 2007, closing in on 375 locations nationwide. The chain's co-founder and chief brand officer, Tom Ryan, brings both the high-level education — before the Ph.D., he earned a master's in lipid toxicology — and successful hospitality career to Smashburger. He also brings a devotion to make a better burger.
“We think the Smashburger brand does the best job of putting great tasting burgers into people's lives,” Ryan tells Coffee Talk. “A lot of brands have commoditized burgers in the past. But our passion is burgers.”
Smashburger, with locations in the Orlando and Jacksonville areas, will make its west Florida debut later this month, with a Sarasota store on University Parkway. The franchise development partner for the Gulf Coast, Regrub LLC, plans to open 34 Smashburger locations from Tampa to Naples in the next eight years, according to a statement. At least 20 of those locations will likely be in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market, adds Ryan.
Smashburger is a burger-first concept, where patties are made with all natural certified Angus beef and are smashed on a 400-degree flat grill to sear in flavor. After burgers, the menu offers everything from chicken sandwiches and salads to Smashfries and Veggie Frites (flash-fried and seasoned carrot sticks and green beans). The drink menu ranges from craft beer to milkshakes to root beer floats in frosted mugs.
Ryan is optimistic the 2,500-square-foot Sarasota Smashburger, and the others to follow, will be big hits. That's true even in a crowded fast-casual market, where he says Smashburger competes with Chipotle and Panera for customers just as much as Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Says Ryan: “The Florida market has been very robust for us.”