Fatburger set to weigh in on NYC burger scene

The Beverly Hills, Calif.-based chain will compete with the likes of Shake Shack, Five Guys and many others.

By Lisa Fickenscher Burger madness will be ratcheting up early next year when Fatburger muscles into the Big Apple

for the first time.

The Beverly Hills, Calif.-based chain, which has been around for 60 years and has 150 eateries across the globe, signed a franchise agreement with The Riese Organization, one of the largest restaurant management companies in New York. Most of the U.S.-based Fatburgers are in Western states, though Atlantic City got the first East Coast eatery five years ago.

Riese, which operates more than 75 fast-food restaurants, including Pizza Hut, KFC, T.G.I Friday’s and Tim Hortons, plans to roll out 10 Fatburgers in Manhattan. The first one will debut at 507 Third Ave. next spring.

Is there appetite enough in the Big Apple for another burger joint, when the city is already overflowing with such chains as Five Guys, Shake Shack, 5 Napkin Burger and many others?

Dennis Riese, chairman and CEO of his eponymous company certainly thinks so.

“I like the idea that it has been around for a long time and has been successful enough in a major metropolis like Los Angeles,” Mr. Riese said.

Also appealing to the restaurateur is the myriad of possibilities to market the brand. “You could get celebrities to say, ‘I’ve been eating Fatburger since I was a kid,’ ” he said.

Indeed, many celeb fans of Fatburger have invested in the chain, which is owned by Fog Cutter Capital Group Inc. Before Fog Cutter bought it in 2003, stars such as Magic Johnson, Cher, Queen Latifah and Janet Jackson were investors in the restaurant.”We are bringing Hollywood to New York,” said Fatburger CEO Andy Wiederhorn. The restaurateur said he partnered with Riese Organization because of its vast real estate holdings and experience in managing restaurants.

Riese owns most of the buildings where it operates restaurants, including 507 Third Ave. Unlike most of its eateries, which operate neighborhoods with lots of tourists or businesses, Riese wants to open Fatburger in mostly residential neighborhoods where there are lower rents, Mr. Riese said.

“There is always room for another great burger place,” said Stephen Zagor, dean of culinary business and industry studies at the Institute of Culinary Education. “Riese’s challenge will be maintaining the quality and precision that a great burger place needs.”

Like some of the more upscale burger places, Fatburger cooks its burgers to order. And it must be doing something right. Last year, system-wide sales were $82 million. Revenues per store range from $1 million to $6 million, Mr. Wiederhorn says.

“I’m not worried about our product competing in New York,” he said. “I’m confident that our burger will be well received.”