What started as a small family-owned operation in Arlington is now the most popular burger joint in the UK. Five Guys, which launched its first store outside of North America in London in 2013, was ranked the UK’s favorite restaurant in the burger, steak, chicken and grill category of a recent survey by Market Force.
The chain has opened 41 UK locations in just two years. The expansion is part of a larger international plan that includes countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and, soon, locations in France and Spain. Of the nearly 1,400 locations worldwide—50 of which are in the Washington area—the one in Saudi Arabia has become the company’s highest grossing location since it opened last spring. Its Dubai restaurant is second, and London is its third.
Jerry Murrell, the 72-year-old founder of Five Guys who now lives in Alexandria, says he was reluctant to expand abroad, fearing that the quality of the hamburgers would be compromised. “They had to drag me over there kicking and screaming,” he says. “It’s a big jump for us.”
But Murrell says the restaurant didn’t have to change one thing on their original menu. “The product over there is just like here.”
Murrell opened the first Five Guys in Arlington in 1986. He and his four sons—the “five guys”—opened five more locations around DC in 15 years. And since they started franchising in 2003, the business has been expanding rapidly. In 2012, the restaurant was the fastest-growing food chain in the US. Five Guys now opens about 200 stores every year.
To maintain the family-owned quality of that first restaurant, Murrell has enlisted some his original suppliers overseas. One of the bakers from Alexandria’s Brenner’s Bakery, which is now closed, has been with Five Guys since Day 1. He’s now in his 80s but is still directly involved with the product abroad, traveling to Saudi Arabia to ensure the bread is just right.
“The work that our whole team has done over there brings tears to my eyes,” Murrell says.
Along with the European expansion, Murrell says the company is starting to look farther east to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and China. The Murrell family never would’ve predicted such a massive growth.
“It’s like everything you do in life,” Murrell says. “You take one little step, and then you take another one, and pretty soon you find out you’re already doing it.”