Jerry Murrell bursts through the swinging glass doors of a hamburger restaurant at a shopping center in suburban Virginia. Van Morrison is rocking through the speakers, and line cooks are shouting orders across the open kitchen. Murrell, 67, who is tall with sporty sunglasses perched atop his bald head, enters as if he owns the place, which he does. The founder and chief executive officer of the Five Guys burger chain approaches the counter, takes his place in line, and makes a show of slipping a crisp $100 bill into the tip jar.
Murrell passes up Five Guys’ regular cheeseburger, which comes with two patties and 840 gluttonous calories, and orders the “Little Burger” — a single patty with lettuce and tomatoes. No cheese or jalapeños, no mushrooms or any of the other 11 free toppings. Not even ketchup. Though he’s proud of the offerings, chosen by his sons who help run the business — “Every little one was a decision,” Murrell says. Today he keeps it simple.
What started as a modest burger shack in a Virginia strip mall has exploded into America’s fastest-growing restaurant chain, with five stores opening each week. Five Guys serves up made-to-order burgers with beef that’s never frozen and absurdly large servings of hand-cut fries. The fresh, generous meals allow them to charge more than fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King.
Murrell founded the company with his wife and sons in 1986. For 16 years they ran a handful of local stores in the Washington, D.C., area, perfecting their limited menu and building a devout local following. Then in 2002, after much nudging, the boys convinced Murrell to open the floodgates to franchising. By the end of this year, Five Guys expects to have almost 1,000 stores open around the country and over $1 billion in sales. They’re growing so fast that the Murrells are racing to hold on to the simple, authentic vibe that made the place so beloved.
Five Guys stores don’t have drive-through or molded plastic...