Burger Paradise

Tom & Eddie’s enters the fast casual market with a fresh take on burger ingredients, seating arrangements and digital signage
Posted September 15, 2011

After retiring from the land of the Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder, Tom Dentice and Eddie Rensi, two former McDonald’s executives, saw an opportunity in the better burger segment to reach baby boomers willing to pay $10 for an all-natural Angus beef sandwich.

“I started to see things in the world of marketing and demographics that led me to believe there was an opportunity to do a different kind of restaurant,” Rensi told The Intelligent Entrepreneur. “The baby boomers want their hamburgers, but they want it with gouda, blue cheese, bacon and fresh-made potato chips. They want to be able to have glass of wine with their hamburger.”

Combining their knowledge of operating franchise models and their love of good burgers, the duo launched Tom & Eddie’s in Lombard, Ill.’s Yorktown Shopping Center, followed by two more locations in the Chicago area.

The goal was to create a family-friendly restaurant that provided customers with three essentials: delicious food, exemplary customer service and an extraordinary dining experience.

Working with Columbus, Ohio-based design and branding firm Big Red Rooster, the team spent a year determining its menu and dining experience before venturing into the design process. Research involved visiting more than 100 burger concepts and hosting an eight-week test restaurant at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., serving meals to students in exchange for feedback.

Big Red Rooster also studied the ways people like to gather. “If you look at the restaurants that are most successful, they’re adding seating variety. There isn’t one size that fits all,” says Martin Beck, ceo, Big Red Rooster.

So the Lombard restaurant, which accommodates about 80 people, features two-tops surrounded by a working gas fireplace, signature booths that mimic an old steakhouse feel for a more intimate experience, a community table for larger groups, and a chef’s table for regulars who want to watch their orders being prepared.

As part of the brand identity, orange drives the color palette. Both the brand’s logo – an ampersand of a spatula – and the kitchen tiles in the open kitchen take on the signature shade. “We looked around at the fast casual segment, and didn’t find the use of that color prevalent,” says Beth Dorsey, senior vp of retail at Big Red Rooster. In the dining area, dark woods and subtle green tones - chosen to promote relaxation - contrast with the brighter lit cashwrap area. “You want things to be a little bit faster during the ordering process, but when you get to your table, you want things to slow down,” she says.

Digital menus enable employees to update ingredients as they change, adjust prices, promote gift cards and specials and share community events. The photos of the food appear more vibrant and the cost of change out is cheaper than traditional menus, Beck says. “And for most fast casual places, nothing's as terrible as having to cross out prices or put a little sticker over it,” he says.

Another way the brand keeps customers coming back is with the Good Taste Guild Loyalty Club, which allows them to build up points to earn a free entrée and soft drink.

Project Suppliers

Retailer: Tom & Eddie’s, Lombard, Ill.
Design Firm: Big Red Rooster, Columbus, Ohio – Jenine Monks, retail designer; Beth Dorsey, senior vp, retail; Andy Kranek, vp, retail communications
Lighting: Prizim Lighting, LTD., Dublin, Ohio – Mark Holman
Ceilings: Armstrong, Lancaster, Pa.
Flooring: Centiva, Florence, Ala.; Junckers, Køge, Denmark
Furniture: American Chair & Seating, Quincy, Mass.; Sandler Seating Inc., Atlanta
Tiles: American Olean, Dallas; DAL-Tile, Worthington, Ohio
Laminate: Formica Co., Cincinnati; Wilsonart International, Inc., Temple, Texas; Wallcoverings and materials: Scuffmaster, Eagan, Minn.; Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J.
Mirrors: Ikea, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
Upholstery: Knoll, East Greenville, Pa.; Maharam, Hauppauge, N.Y.
Countertops: Corian, Cincinnati