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Former Pizza Inn, Pie Five CEO leaves retirement behind to expand Tampa-based burger brand

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Although he gave it the old college try, Randy Gier found retirement a bit boring. After taking less than a year off from corporate duties, the former CEO of Pizza Inn and Pie Five has decided to get back into the restaurant business by helping Tampa-based restaurateur Jake Hickton expand his better burger concept — Burger Monger.

“Long story short, we’re now business partners, and I’m working with him to evolve the concept and put in place the processes to allow us to grow the brand,” Gier said in an interview with FastCasual. “Gotta do something in my retirement; I suck at golf.”

All joking aside, Gier — who is now the CEO of Burger Monger’s parent company, NRG — loves the five-unit concept and couldn’t resist a good challenge.

“If you can make it in a competitive space like burgers, you can make it anywhere,” he said.

Gier isn’t exaggerating; fast casual burger brands claiming to be “the best” are all over the world these days. He said that what makes Burger Monger different from the competition is the beef.

“Jake’s roots are in the high-end steakhouse business, so the concept, while in the fast casual space, is really built with a higher sensitivity to quality ingredients and service,” he said. “The beef itself is a 100 percent Akaushi [Kobe] beef, which is a specific breed of Wagyu cattle. Highly flavorful.”

Although Tampa Bay Magazine readers have rated Burger Monger as the “Best Burger in Tampa” for the past three years, Hickton and Gier are updating the menu and remodeling all locations.

“The burger segment is the most competitive in the restaurant business, and Burger Monger has always maintained an attitude that the best never rests,” Hickton said.

The only things the two aren’t changing is their commitment to serving Akaushi beef — higher-quality ingredients on a locally sourced, fresh-baked challah bun. Everything else is up for exploration.

“As we expand, we’ll be looking at different service models like a downtown DelCo, a serve-yourself tap house and even hot dog carts,” Gier said. “And, we’re exploring some really cool service opportunities to leverage evolving technology.”

Under its new moniker of “Chophouse Burgers and Barstool Shakes,” the restaurant has added 10 chef-inspired burgers.  One standout is the Ultimate Chophouse Burger, which piles pulled pork, hickory-smoked bacon, real cheddar cheese, a thick-cut onion ring and A-1 Sauce on a challah bun. Another option is the brand’s salute to Florida’s Latin culture — the Cuban Burger — topped with sliced pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and mayo.

Burger Monger’s expanded menu also features the addition of a hand-dipped, fresh-breaded chicken sandwich, new recipes for its 100-percent Kobe Hot Dogs, and a variety of sides, desserts and premium drinks.

It’s also embracing the nitro coffee trend with its own Cuban-blended cold brew coffee and a nitro lemonade.

“Like many restaurants, we got interested in the trend for nitro coffee, but we took it a step further and used the nitro technology to create nitro lemonade,” Gier said. “It’s amazing; frothy, cool, sweet, goodness … perfect for our brand.

Burger Monger is also investing in state-of-the-art kitchen equipment.

“As a local startup, we’ve been getting by with used equipment and a lot of love from our cooks,” Gier said. “With the investment in the brand, we want our cooks to have the very best technology so they can deliver greatness every time.”

He’s also looking into upgrading packaging and products for delivery.

“This is a growing segment that delivers poor-quality product at home, yet everyone continues to use packaging that steams the food and delivers it cold,” he said. “We want our delivery experience to be as close to our restaurant experience as possible. We reject those that say, ‘The customer doesn’t expect it to be as good when it is delivered.'”

The Burger Monger restaurant in Tampa’s Wesley Chapel neighborhood is the first to get the makeover, but all stores will have the additions by the end of 2019. From there, regional expansion of corporate-owned restaurants will begin.

“Our goal is to provide a ‘come-back’ experience,” Gier said. “I learned through many ventures, that the best thing to do is to stay focused on the experience.  If we can do that, growth will take care of itself.”

If he had to put a number on it, however, Gier said that doubling units every three years is a reasonable goal.

“But, if at any point, we feel growth is inhibiting our delivering a memorable, come-back quality experience, we put the breaks on,” he said.

Want to hear more? Gier will speak about his strategies during a panel at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit, March 11–13. Register now!

Republished with permission from
Photo courtesy of Burger Monger.

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