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VOL. 117 | NO. 9 | Monday, January 13, 2003

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Back Yard Burgers turning up the heat

Back Yard Burgers turning up the heat

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 Memphis.

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 said.

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 people.

We like our niche premium fast food is where we want to be and there will always be a place for it, he said.

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PROPERTY SALES 89 344 19,573
MORTGAGES 110 422 22,914
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 8,303 8,303
BUILDING PERMITS 207 838 40,029
BANKRUPTCIES 60 356 13,104
BUSINESS LICENSES 21 194 6,137
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 30 147 12,996
MARRIAGE LICENSES 15 65 4,842

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