VOL. 117 | NO. 9 | Monday, January 13, 2003
Back Yard Burgers turning up the heat
Back Yard Burgers turning up
By ANDREW BELL
The Daily News
Arising from the unlikeliest
of places, the cotton-laced Mississippi Delta, Memphis-based Back Yard Burgers
continues finding local and national success thanks to a hungry population that
is searching more than ever for top-notch restaurant food.
They want quickness, but more
importantly, they want quality, said Back Yard Burgers founder and chief
executive officer Lattimore Michael.
The restaurant chain, whose
double drive-thru windows opened in 1987 in Cleveland, Miss., recently opened
its 14th local restaurant, at the corner of Poplar Avenue and Marne Street near
the University of Memphis. Two more eateries are planned for the near future.
Michael relocated the chains
headquarters to Memphis in 1994 a change he said was a good move.
I just saw a void for good
tasting fast food hamburgers, Michael reflected about his goal of starting and
running a profitable restaurant.
Michael grew up in Rosedale, Miss., and is a graduate of
Ole Miss, where he studied business and frequently trekked to Memphis, becoming
familiar with the local restaurant market.
His familiarity with the
Bluff Citys demographics gave him an advantage when he decided to move to
The citys first area Back
Yard Burgers was opened in Horn Lake, Miss.
There are 120 Back Yard
Burgers restaurants in 17 states.
Michael, who previously
worked in the grocery store industry, said a new term, fast casual, has
emerged in the restaurant world for such eateries as Back Yard Burgers,
McAlisters Deli and Fazolis.
However, he has discovered
that the public generalizes whats deemed fast food and whats simply a
restaurant based on one feature.
We learned that if you have
a drive-thru, regardless, people think you are a fast food (place), he said.
Back Yard Burgers is popular,
Michael said, because of what he described as premium fast food food a step
above fast food chains such as McDonalds, Burger King and Wendys and other
competing regional chains.
From milkshakes to chicken
sandwiches to charbroiled cheeseburgers the restaurants best-selling food
item Michael implied that the chains menu is pretty full.
Yet, his corporate team is
always on the lookout for anything including new foods that will give the
company an advantage.
We are constantly looking
for more products; theres always a better way to get a new mousetrap, he
Fifty percent of all fast
food sales is in hamburgers, but the flip side is that hamburgers are so
competitive. I tell people all the time that I wasnt smart enough to know
better (about the level of competition), but I had confidence in the product.
Currently, Back Yard Burgers
is spending a good deal of capital putting its new flame logo on its existing
restaurants. Recently, it partnered with executives of Taco Bell and KFC to
open co-branded restaurants at certain locations.
About two years ago, Back
Yard Burgers completely upgraded its hamburger products to Black Angus beef a
profitable change, Michael said.
Black Angus beef says it
all, he said. Everyone knows that to be the zenith of all beef products.
It took some time to
determine exactly how much more the public was willing to pay for higher
quality food, Michael said. But, when the restaurants advertised Black Angus
beef outside their buildings, it computed with customers, he said.
In their mind they know that
its going to cost more, but they are getting a higher quality for what they
pay for, he said.
Last year, Back Yard Burgers
received the Golden Chain Award from Nations Restaurant News magazine.
Michael is proud of the
praise and said it has fueled his ambition to add more stores and feed more
We like our niche premium
fast food is where we want to be and there will always be a place for it, he