It is my general view that high quality small burger outlets are fundamentally different businesses than bigger chains.
High end solo outlets often have founders on site much of the time. They are driven by passion, and need to deliver a high end and unique product to build their brand. In the world of burgers, this often means medium-rare burgers for extra juicy flavours.
Burger chains have a different route to profitability: they are (often) trying to scale. Because the founder obviously cannot be on multiple sites simultaneously, they need to train staff to make burgers. I think that their insurers and the reality of the labour market conspires to force such burger chains to be much more conservative in their cooking.
If a chain serves an undercooked burger, the downside risks are big. Big chunks of capital are at risk if a customer gets sick at a big chain, and the combination of regulation and insurance combine to force burger chefs to cook burgers to very specific processes.
Do you think there’s a single McDonald’s burger cook in the world who is empowered to make their own judgment about whether a burger looks fully cooked? I doubt it. I think many solo operators, however, do make their own judgment on when a burger is ready.
The result is that going from solo outlet, to chain, is a tough process. Obviously, some have made the leap!
Fat Hippo seems to be in the process of trying to change from an edgy little outlet, into a big chain. With a number of sites primarily in North England, they make excellent burgers. But in the transition, I fear that they may risk not maintaining excellence – when I went with a couple of mates, the burger patties and toppings were all very good… But all slightly on the dry side. I think as a result of overcooking.
A little more cheese, a little added bone marrow would make these big and complicated burgers to be outstanding. In the meantime, I’ll hope that Fat Hippo transforms into a successful chain.