By STEVEN NALLEY
A representative from the Mississippi restaurant organization who brought Five Guys Burgers and Fries to Flowood and Ridgeland confirmed Thursday Starkville is one of nine cities in the state where the organization is looking at opening new Five Guys locations.
Jud Heubach is director of operations for L&R Burgers LLC, the Five Guys franchisee for central and northern sections of Mississippi. He said he could confirm information first posted to the Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries Mississippi Facebook page revealing plans to open franchises in Starkville, Columbus, Tupelo, Jackson, Oxford, Hattiesburg, Southaven, Brandon and Clinton.
“We are planning on opening a Five Guys in Starkville within the next couple of years at latest,” Heubach said. “We’re looking at a couple of sites there ... but we don’t want to set a timeline. We haven’t signed a deal. As these things kind of fall together, we’ll be opening many more.”
The move would more than quintuple Five Guys’ footprint in central and northern Mississippi, which would rise from two restaurants in Ridgeland and Flowood to 11 restaurants. Five Guys’ official website says there are currently 900 locations nationwide and more than 1,500 units in development, and Heubach said the company is thriving in an economy where many others are struggling.
“In this economy, we find ... the quick casual market thrives,” Heubach said. “We have been blessed with a great concept with Five Guys, and we actually have seen great sales. There’s nothing more American than a hamburger and French fries.”
Heubach said he doesn’t mind bringing Five Guys into a competitive Starkville burger market which includes Christy’s, Brian Michaels Burger Co., Mugshots and several national chains. In fact, he said, he appreciates Five Guys being compared with such businesses.
“They do a really good job,” Heubach said. “We just find that there’s plenty of market in this segment for people who do what we do, and that’s just fresh hamburgers (and) hand-cut fries.”
Jennifer Gregory, Greater Starkville Development Partnership vice president and chief operating officer, said she, too, believes there is room in Starkville’s burger market for a Five Guys franchise. She said the many delis in Starkville seem to succeed, demonstrating how similar restaurants with slightly different concepts do not necessarily infringe on each other’s market share.
“People just want options,” Gregory said. “Even if those options do include some of the same styles of menus, I think the Five Guys concept differs from that of Mugshots.”
Gregory said she would welcome a Five Guys franchise in Starkville, not only because she has enjoyed their offerings in other cities but also because it would fit in with a recommendation from last year’s charrette to grow Starkville’s restaurant cluster.
“One thing we saw from our charrette last March is people are driving from a 30-45 mile radius from their communities to Starkville to eat at our restaurants,” Gregory said. “I think Starkville has been established as a sort of destination for excellent restaurants, especially in the Golden Triangle.”
Gregory said she believes local restaurants are a large part of Starkville’s draw, but she also welcomes such franchises as Newk’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Both play roles in increasing sales tax and 2 percent restaurant tax revenue in Starkville, she said.
“Additionally, through the recent Twitter Town Hall, we heard from many students that there was a desire for an increase in franchise restaurants,” Gregory said. “Some (franchises) mentioned include Five Guys and Chipotle. We would most definitely welcome the addition of new restaurants, both local and franchise, to the community. The addition of any well-known business in the community can only help us attract other desirable retailers and restaurants.”