My friend Alyssa tells a story about being in five guys prices in Boston. She’d just settled down with her food at her table when she overhead an over-served guy likely wearing a Shawn Thornton Bruins jersey talking to himself as he inhaled a cheeseburger. “Ahhhh,” he sighed, contentedly, in between bites. “This is the right amount of guys.”

After I started writing this, friends, I needed an extended, drawn-out story here. However when I heard that, I deleted everything. Because dammit if this Sam Adams-swilling street poet didn’t sum it perfectly.

“If you can provide a good haircut or when you can serve an excellent drink with a bar or when you can serve a good hamburger, you can make money in the united states.” — Five Guys founder Jerry Murrell’s mother

Where did Five Guys result from? In 1986, the four brothers Murrell opened a takeaway burger joint in Arlington, Virginia, simply a stone’s throw from DC, AKA Cap City. Because they started the spot using their parents, that constituted “Five Guys,” therefore that name came to be (and subsequently, a younger brother could be born a couple of years later, providing them with five actual guys as sons). The principles were simple: hand-formed, fresh-ground beef; fries cooked in peanut oil; no freezers. As each burger was developed to order, they introduced complimentary shelled peanuts as something to eat when you waited.

The place took off, and so, over the next 20 years, they methodically opened four more in and around Cap City, then slowly started to expand into lower Virginia and Maryland. Starting in 2003, they expanded nationwide. There are now over 1,500 Five Guys locations all over the world. Based on their site “another 1,500 (are) in development.”

Competitor context. The clearest competitors to Five Guys are Shake Shack (around 200 total locations), Smashburger (370), Habit Burger (250), and Fat Burger (over 200). The idea of fast-food burger chains versus fast-casual is a scary topic for me. For example, In-N-Out naturally fits into this conversation (and contains 340 locations) as the burger is frequently discussed (by me, no less, later), within the national conversation of cult chain burgers along most of these joints, yet it is more fast food than fast casual (the presence of drive-thrus generally in most locations will be the differentiator to me). But this shit is difficult to define, and giving me anxiety, so let’s just move on.

Precisely what is Five Guys seeking to do now? With this hyper-aggressive expansion plan, Five Guys is extremely clearly seeking to exert their influence in the Great Burger Wars in the fast-casual era. With nearly four times the amount of restaurants as their next biggest rival, they’ve got a remarkable jump start. Also, quite famously, they never advertised whatsoever until around three in the past — which, if you believe about this, is kind of a means of advertising in itself amirite?!? And even then, their ad footprint was purposefully small and really only on the internet and with social media marketing. They may be savvy Guys (and Girls).

The Way I made it happen: Over the course of fourteen days, I visited two Northern California Five Guys a total of 3 x. I ordered each item on the actual menu, plus one off-menu item, and ate a lot of peanuts for no reason at all while I was waiting.

A note on the peanuts: They’re fine? Shelling peanuts is much more concerning the process for me, that i found mildly relaxing. But in the long run, they’re still just peanuts, and since the phrase “I bought it for peanuts” doesn’t suggest they’re an enormous value-add, I’m not spending more time on them.

Five Stars/Guys Who Are Enjoyable To Get Around: Many moons ago, I reviewed just about any major chain cheeseburger. Much for the chagrin of my In-N-Out fanboy California family, I proclaimed Five Guys as having the best. (Note: it was before Shake Shake began their intensive expansion, so they weren’t yet inside the mix, and it had been a confusing time for your fhyxvv food vs fast-casual debate I mentioned earlier.) But after spending recent years eating 330 burgers from independent restaurants across the country, I hadn’t been back to

But lo and behold, upon my revisits the burgers were again a minor revelation. Each and every time, I saw char on the meat, hand-formed patties that broke apart easily, a well-griddled bun that didn’t get soggy, and the exclusive usage of American cheese, the ONLY ACCEPTABLE CHEESE on burgers. They aren’t perfect (they tend to undercook the griddled onions, which doesn’t allow them to properly caramelize), however they are definitely in the In-N-Out,/Shake Shack pantheon of quality fast-casual burger chains that sit above all of those other major players.

Essentially it’s only a grilled cheese, though with an added burger patty and grilled onions. The patty melt advantages from the reality that they flip over a regular bun and double grill it with what would normally become the within the bun as the outside, and 2 layers of cheese encasing the burger patty. The grilled onions inside the mix makes the entire thing a gooey, griddled delight. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I ate the whole thing after I’d sampled two burgers, two hot dogs, two other sandwiches, two orders of fries, and 2 milkshakes. I do believe my body created another stomach in order to sate my needs.

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