Obama's burger-chain of choice heading to Vancouver
Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a U.S. burger chain, will open its first international location in Medicine Hat, Alta., in January, and plans to open two outlets in Vancouver before the Olympic Games begin.
U.S. President Barack Obama made headlines in May when he visited a D.C. franchise during NBC's Brian Williams White House special, buying burgers and fries for himself and some of his staffers. This came just months after Michelle Obama did the same thing. Loca-vores were saddened that the first couple eschewed the produce growing organically in their backyard, but for burger lovers everywhere, the move was a major sign of solidarity.
"We're not sure if we're his favourite burger joint," says Five Guys spokeswoman Molly Catalano. "But we're very excited that the President likes our burgers."
Indeed, Obama is just one of millions of Americans who enjoys Five Guys. The company was founded in 1981 with a single location in Arlington, Va., and in just over 20 years, it has expanded to more than 450 locations in more than 30 states across the country.
Medicine Hat is first on an expansive list of potential Canadian locations, mostly because it fits the needs of the Canadian franchise owners.
"That's their territory," says Catalano of the franchise owners, who also have restaurants in Utah and Idaho. "It's a good fit for our demographic requirements. They use modelling software to figure it out, but it's a place where people like burgers."
Besides its carnivorous population, Alberta has its advantages for a place that specializes in burgers and fries.
"We're looking to source some of our food locally as we grow," says Terry Jennings, vice-president of operations of Five Guys Canada. "We're looking into getting our potatoes from Taber, Alta., and there's nothing like Alberta beef."
They'll have to wait until a few more restaurants open before they go local, but Jennings thinks Canada is ready for a new burger joint — which will, in most ways, be identical to the U.S. version.
"The most exciting thing, to me, is that Canadians love quality," he says, stressing that the burgers and fries are made from scratch every day. "That's the hallmark of Five Guys. And boy, you can taste the difference."
The company's appetite for expansion is great. After Medicine Hat, Jennings says a couple of locations should be open in Vancouver in time for the Olympics.
By the end of next year, Canadians from Vancouver to Toronto can expect a Five Guys outlet near home.
But in a country where Obama's meals hold less political sway, it's not clear how Five Guys, which doesn't advertise, will fare. Jennings takes the move to Canada seriously, though, even offering a hockey-related example.
"The Calgary Flames love Five Guys," Jennings says. "They schedule team stops at our restaurants when they're in the States. I think they'll like to have one in Calgary."
As for whether Canada's prime minister plans to mimic his American counterpart at the new location in his home province, Jennings was unsure.
"You'd have to ask Stephen about that," he says. "But, believe me, we'd welcome him."
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