Great Burgers, Great Atmosphere
Urban Burger aims to provide its customers with many things. Since its inception, it has provided original gourmet burgers to customers in Melbourne. Later, it provided the same thing to South East Queensland – along with a breakfast menu, alcohol, and the innovative option of having your burger as a wrap or salad. None of these things speak to Urban Burger’s ultimate goal, however. “More than anything else, we’re just aiming to provide a great product at the right price for people,” says Shane Heal, a Managing Director at Urban Burger. “Particularly at a time where some people are struggling, but still want to go out and have dinner. They can’t always afford, necessarily, to go to a pub or one of the more expensive restaurants and we feel we fit that quick service puzzle for people.”
Established in 2003, Urban Burger is an exciting family brand that deals in unique, fresh and delicious products. The brand started in Melbourne, with a Bay Street store that quickly became well renowned, receiving rave reviews in major newspapers and magazines, as well as praise from celebrity chefs. At that location, the Urban Burger product, brand and system was developed, refined, and ultimately expanded to include 11 stores in Victoria (including the original on Bay Street) and five in Queensland. Urban Burger continues its expansion and encourages lovers of great tasting, fresh burgers, wraps and salads to enquire about new and upcoming opportunities to join the Urban Burger family. A big factor in this expansion has been Shane Heal.
In his former career in Australian basketball, Heal was one of the sport’s most recognisable figures. Outside of basketball, Heal has over 15 years of experience in developing property and establishing locations for franchise stores in Queensland. He’s the founding director of Heal Group, which over 200 Queenslanders are employed in connection with. In the case of Urban Burger, Heal became a franchisee roughly 18 months ago. “I really liked the concept of a gourmet burger chain, and there wasn’t a lot of competition in the market, so that’s why I became a franchisee in Melbourne,” Heal says. “I went and approached the franchisor and asked if they were looking at taking this to any of the other states, because they’d been going for about seven years and only had 10 stores in Melbourne. They said they’re looking at it, and I ended up taking the rights to take it to Queensland.” Heal utilised those rights to open five stores there. “I just loved the concept and thought it had legs to be able to grow,” he says.
Even before Heal’s involvement, Urban Burger was famous for its gourmet burgers, made from 100 per cent King Island Beef, no preservatives, low GI buns, and everything fresh – that is the Urban Burger Guarantee. Recently, Urban Burger has taken that philosophy a step further and introduced a new menu option to transform your burger into a deliciously healthy wrap or salad. “We just need to continue to reward our customers,” Heal says. “We’ve been going for seven years in Melbourne but in Queensland the oldest store is about fifteen months old. We’re really starting to gain momentum with people coming back on a daily basis.” Changing the menu is part of their initiative to seize on that momentum. Whilst Heal thought the original concept was excellent, he also felt that there was a whole range of products that could be introduced. “There was a bit of a different direction we needed to go,” he says. The new menu only recently went up in the Queensland stores. “We introduced it to people months ago just by word of mouth, and the response has just been unbelievable.”
“I think the good thing is that while you’ll get some people who say ‘No, I don’t want a wrap, I’m here for a good burger’, you’ve also got other people who don’t necessarily want the same amount of carbs, or don’t want such a big meal, who’ll say ‘Oh wraps, you do wraps, that’s great,'” Heal continues. “We find that people who want wraps are coming back more often because it isn’t so heavy and there are a lot of people who are watching their carbs.” Alternatively, people can have their burger as a salad, foregoing the bun and including extra lettuce and tomato. That is what the company is currently trying in its Queensland stores, and if it’s as successful as Heal thinks it’s going to be, Urban Burger will bring it to Melbourne in the next couple of months.
Again, Heal’s approach is to embrace what Urban Burger has done in the past but also to add to it, taking the store in the direction he feels it needs to go. For example, Urban Burger used to open at 11 a.m., but now it has started opening at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. to offer breakfast, and majority of stores are now selling coffee, with the remainder going through the process. “We feel like that’s a part of the market,” Heal says. “We get a lot of tradies that’ll come in at 9:30 and that’s their lunch and they get a big burger. Yet we’ll also have some moms come in and they’ll get a breakfast and coffee, and they’re part of the demographics we could never have before.”
Another example of Urban Burger’s new vision is their alcohol component. All of its stores, except its express stores, now sell alcohol. “We’re trying to attract families, where mom or dad might want a beer.” According to Heal, many of its competitors are too expensive for families to frequent. “We feel like we can offer families and couples an opportunity to come, and still be able to have that alcohol component, as well as a good value burger, wrap or salad. Families can get away with it at a good price whilst still getting a good product.” Heal also credits the stores relaxed atmosphere with attracting families. “Whether there’s somebody in their 60s or a teenager, we try not to make anyone feel alienated and that’s the thing that we’re proudest about – that the vibe that we have does attract a wide range of people.”
Both of their new components – breakfast and alcohol – have been very successful for Urban Burger. In fact, according to Heal, the breakfast menu accounts for about 17 per cent of its Queensland locations total turnover. “That far exceeded where we thought it was going to be at such an early stage,” he says. And the stage is early – only two of its Queensland stores have been open for more than a year, the rest are only seven or eight months old. “A lot of people still don’t know the brand up here and we’ve really tried to get our systems right, and our menu right, and our marketing, and generally get everything in order before we really start launching into the South Queensland market.”
At this stage in Urban Burger’s life, franchising is important. Heal has opened five company-owned stores himself, and he’ll continue to open company-owned stores, but he is still looking to attract the right franchisees. “Because I was a franchisee of five other brands myself, I understand the importance of having good operators. And sometimes that’s going to be a mixture of operators that have been in other brands and then new mom and dad operators who like what we do and want to be part of it.” The unique thing about franchising with Urban Burger, Heal says, is its two models: one being its restaurant model with the alcohol component, and the other its express model, which can be done in as little as 40 square metres. “With the 40 square metre model we really want to be able to kick the get-in price down low for people. We’ve got one express model here in Queensland and it is doing really well and we think that’s something that’s going to be really attractive to first time franchisees in the market.”
In five years, Heal says he’d like to think that Urban Burger will have 100 stores throughout Australia and New Zealand. “To do that, we’re on the search for people with an interest in owning their own business but keen to take advantage of the benefits that come with being a franchisee.” Heal understands the importance of finding the right franchisee and receiving continued support from the franchisor. “Urban Burger offers a great deal of continued support for franchisees after their initial four week training. It is important to continue to support our franchisees to grow and develop, and ultimately achieve the common goal we are all working towards; providing delicious gourmet burgers, wraps, salads with great vibe and family culture while making strong, profitable returns.”