US "better burger" restaurant chain Smashburger plans to open two UK restaurants by the end of this year.
That's according to founder Tom Ryan, who is in London following the announcement yesterday that his company had appointed AL Ventures to run the UK franchise for the concept.
Smashburger has grown to 310 corporate and franchised sites in seven different countries since it was founded in 2007, offering burgers cooked in a way that involves "smashing" the beef onto a hot, buttered grill.
Ryan said the brand had identified the UK as a good potential market thanks to a strong demand for burgers, a strong economy, and a franchise partner with experience that it was prepared to work with (Smashburger in the UK will be fronted by managing director Tim Lowther, who has previously worked for Five Guys, Shake Shack and Burger King in the UK).
"Since 2007 when the concept started, our vision was that there was a sea change around the entire burger market, that there was a void in the worldwide market about burgers that people could get passionate about again because they generally had focused on value and had gotten quite commoditised," Ryan said of the Smashburger concept.
Smashburger has a target to open 35 sites in the UK over the coming years, provided the first few trade as expected.
"We are poised right now to open a couple of stores before the end of the year," Ryan said. "Then typically the growth rate after that gets to four to five in 2016 and obviously that is all predicated on understanding the market and seeing how we do with these first five or six."
It is not clear where the first sites will open, but Ryan said he hoped that the brand would have a presence in London. "We would love to say that we are going to open in London first but we are not going to let a London opening hamper our aggressive stance, and we want to get off to a good start in the UK," he said.
Ryan said it was also too early to talk about a price point for the burgers Smashburger offers, but that it would be comparable to other brands in its competitive set - brands which are likely to include Shake Shack, Five Guys, GBK and Byron.
While the service style (described by Ryan a "fast casual plus" because customers order at a counter but have food brought to their table), and decor promise to be a mirror image of their US counterparts, the menu may vary in some circumstances to allow for burgers designed to reflect the local market. "Expect to see burger recipes reflective of micro geographies," Ryan said. "We will more than likely have a London burger, or a burger for Scotland. I am sure we will have one for Wales, and we may even have one for places like Birmingham."