Imagine it: You take a much-needed vacation to a faraway country, any country, and there it is: Five Guys. That's the dream of Five Guys co-founder Jim Murrell, who ran into Patch Tuesday at Five Guys in Lorton where he spoke with us for approximately 11 minutes and 13 seconds before dashing off to a meeting.
The Lorton-based hamburger chain started in Arlington in 1986, and has experienced explosive growth since they started franchising 10 years ago. The company now boasts more than 1,100 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Murrell, 45, is the son of company president Jerry Murrell, and brother to Matt, Chad, Tyler and Ben Murrell. He lives near Fredericksburg, is married and has five children, three of whom work for the company.
(Editor's note: We got the most information we could under time constraints, and are confident you'll enjoy the discussion.)
Patch: What do you like on your burger?
Murrell: I like all 15 toppings on my burger. I love my burgers with jalapenos and green peppers, with everything on it. It's just enough to keep it all together and not fall apart.
Patch: How often do you eat a Five Guys burger?
Murrell: When I was cooking for the first 17 years, I probably ate a burger on every shift. So, that's about 5,000 burgers.
Patch: How's your cholesterol?
Murrell: My cholesterol is good. I keep active, but as long as I'm active and keep cooking and don't eat other stuff like desserts, then I'm just fine. My health reports are great.
Patch: You grew up in Alexandria. Are you a T.C. Williams High School graduate?
Murrell: I did graduate from T.C.
Patch: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Murrell: It's funny. I never really thought about being in the restaurant business when I was a kid. I had a few jobs before Five Guys. When I was 18, my dad presented the idea that he wanted to get in the restaurant business, and I asked what he wanted to sell. He wanted to sell French fries.
Patch: Did you go to college?
Murrell: The whole plan was to do one or the other. We didn't have a whole lot of money back then, and my dad said 'I have enough money to open a business. Do you guys want to do that or do you want to use it for college?' And I said, 'Well, Dad, that's what we go to college for - so that you can have the opportunity to have a business.' And in addition to fries, I had the idea that we would sell handmade hamburger patties and put all the toppings you want on them.
Patch: So this is all your fault?
Murrell: Yep - me and my dad. See, back in the '80s everything was frozen food and microwaves, and we thought if we could make something fresh —fresh-made hamburgers like you can have at home, that that would be a good seller. Training people to do it right would be the hard thing
Patch: And business is good.
Murrell: Business is going very well. I think America really loves our burgers. One of the reasons we've expanded like we have is because we felt that other people may start with the same concept as us and we need to get in those markets as quickly as possible. So, we decided to franchise and that got us out there a whole lot quicker. We worked in the restaurants for 12 years and figured it out before we decided to think about expanding.
Patch: And now there are 1,100 locations...
Murrell: Yep. Over 1,119 locations.
Patch: How many locations did you have 10 years ago?
Patch: What was your job description 10 years ago?
Murrell: I was delivering bread on my days off, going in the stores and making sure everything was being run properly. And I was cooking a daily shift at one store as well, and I'd collect the money bags and the tickets from the stores at the end of the night.
Patch: What's your job description now?
Murrell: My job now - I'm one of the founders and executives in the business and I attend meetings once a week where our executives report to us and we make big decisions on whether or not we are going to spend money. And franchise decisions - usually decisions that need to be made at the top.
My affiliation with the company now is in making sure that the vision stays the same that it was in the 1980s to now, with us having more than 1,100 stores.
Patch: Things have changed for you.
Murrell: Yes. It's not as labor-intensive… It's gotten big, with 29,000 employees nationwide, 260 company-owned stores and more than 800 franchise-owned stores (including 40 in Canada). We're now expanding to England and expect to be opening our first store in London in June.
Patch: Five Guys takes over the world?
Murrell: In hamburgers, yes. I would love to see a great hamburger place everywhere I go, especially if I'm traveling on a nice vacation somewhere and there's a Five Guys - that would be awesome.
Patch: What is your expansion plan?
Murrell: As long as the customers love it wherever we go, we want to continue our growth… We have a five-year plan, and basically the economy is changing so fast that we do a budget for the stores we want to open each year.
We're expanding and we continue to expand, and as we run out of real estate we'll move to other countries that we think will work well for us. Right now we're working with English-speaking countries first so that we can better understand and build the company, and from there we think we'll move on to other bilingual-speaking countries and countries where English is not spoken.
Patch: Just living with your own family can be stressful. How's working with them?
Murrell: Even though there were times that got rough for us, I was glad that I had family there. Family is a great thing to have in a business. When you have family you have a lot more trust than somebody you hired from the street. It takes a long time to develop a relationship like that. You grew up together and know each other's pluses and negatives, and you use that to benefit the business.
(Murrell is told that he is now late to a meeting and has to run.)
Patch: I have one more question: Some would say, including Mens Health Magazine, that Five Guys is unhealthy. Are your customers sacrificing their health by eating your tasty burgers?
Murrell: My position on that is that you can go to other restaurants that are even greasier than Five Guys. Our concept was to use peanut oil in our French fries, which has a lot less fat in it, and to use fresh hamburger patties and vegetables without any preservatives, salts or spices. We thought we'd make a junk food that was healthier than other junk foods. We're not trying to be a healthy place, but we want to make it as healthy as possible for what it is.