Smashburger, a better burger concept with 143 restaurants in 25 states, might be a national chain, but its management still strives for local appeal everywhere it opens. So before entering any market, it researches local tastes and develops appropriate menu items.
Founder and chief concept officer Tom Ryan recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News on how this strategy works when it comes to the chain’s newest hot dogs.
How important are hot dogs to Smashburger?
Hot dogs are currently a part of our core menu. If burgers are America’s favorite food, hot dogs are America’s favorite sausage.
We generally use 100 percent Angus beef, and we split them down the middle and grill them to develop a lot of flavor.
But in certain markets we use regional favorites. In New Jersey there’s a favorite brand called Best, so our New Jersey stores use Best hot dogs.
Also, although every market has a hot dog, some markets have other popular sausages as well.
How do you determine what will work in each market?
We look at four dimensions. First we look at local menus to see what’s hot. If we see a predominance of anything, we kind of flag that. That’s how we knew that we needed Johnsonville brats in Minneapolis.
We also talk to our distribution centers [to determine what moves well].
We use our own experience and intuition, and finally we talk to our corporate store managers and franchise partners. Those are our sources for inside inspiration. All of them add something that the others don’t and help us to localize with things that resonate with people.
What are some examples?
In New Jersey we use Best hot dogs. Chicago has polish sausage, and in North Dakota we have smoked sausage.
We’re currently working on New Orleans, and we’ll do either andouille or gator.
Are there flavors that work everywhere?
Chicago-style hot dogs and chili-cheese are universal, but in Cincinnati and Kentucky we use their regional style of chili, with onions and cheese.
In the Carolinas, instead of chili cheese fries we do fries topped with Brunswick stew, and in Charlotte we use it to top the hot dogs.
A look at Smashburger’s regional hot dogs:
• Chicago Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, yellow mustard, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, relish, and onions.
• Chili Cheese Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, Cheddar cheese, onions, fresh jalapeños, and chili.
• Chi-Town Polish Sausage: Johnsonville® Polish sausage, grilled onions, Gulden’s® spicy mustard, and American cheese
• Brooklyn Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, sauerkraut, grilled onions, and yellow mustard.
• Arizona Devil Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, habanero cheese, guacamole, fresh jalapeños, spicy chipotle sauce, tomatoes, and onions.
• Colorado Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, grilled mild green chiles, grilled onions, melted Cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, spicy chipotle sauce, and fresh sliced tomatoes.
• Atlanta Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, Wicked® Pimina cheese, grilled jalapeños, and Vidalia coleslaw.
• KC Hot Link: KC hot link, Kansas City's own Gates BBQ sauce, Cheddar cheese, and haystack onions.
• 3 Way Dog (Kentucky): 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, Cincinnati chili, grated Cheddar cheese, and onions.
• Louisiana Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, Cajun grilled onions, Cheddar cheese, and rémoulade sauce
• Tailgate Brat (Minnesota): Johnsonville® Beer Bratwurst, garlic onions, spicy brown mustard, and melted Cheddar bar cheese.
• St. Louis Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, provel cheese, yellow mustard, garlic grilled mushrooms, grilled onions, and sweet bell peppers.
• Jersey Dog: New Jersey’s Own Best’s Beef® hot dog, sauerkraut, grilled onions, and spicy brown mustard.
• Italian Dog (New Jersey): New Jersey’s Own Best’s Beef® hot dog, fried potatoes, peppers, and onions.
• Carolina Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, Wicked® Pimina cheese, and BBQ slaw.
• Brunswick Dog (North Carolina): 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, Brunswick stew, Wicked® Pimina cheese drizzled with Carolina BBQ sauce.
• North Dakota Smoked Sausage: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, sauerkraut, pickles, onions, and Gulden’s® mustard.
• Texas Dog: 100 percent Angus beef hot dog, pepper jack cheese, guacamole, fresh jalapeños, spicy chipotle sauce, tomatoes, and onions.
— Bret Thorn, NRN.com