Trying new things can be a risk, but when you have nothing to lose, taking risks doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Brian Poag, owner of Jake’s BBQ and Catering, was busy running a lucrative full-service restaurant. But as restrictions began and profits slowed, Poag considered what he could do to make up for the deficit. While watching a television program, he heard about a restaurant that had turned their kitchen into a ghost kitchen.
Drawing inspiration from top of the line fast casual restaurants like In-N-Out and Chick-fil-A, Poag’s goal was to integrate the aspects people love about those brands into a mom and pop setting. In October, Underground Burger was born.
“We started out with a Facebook page. That was it. We promoted the Facebook page saying we were coming. We started that about a week and a half before we actually kicked off. We announced it on a Sunday that we were opening up on a Tuesday. By that Tuesday morning, we had probably 50 pre-orders already setup on our online ordering system. We thought at that point, ‘oh my goodness, what have we done?’” said Poag.
Underground Burger’s menu is simple: Burgers and Waffle fries, each served with the brand’s own signature sauces.
“Chef Andy Nguyen has made these burgers what we like to call ‘cravable.’ They’re not your run of the mill, fast casual burger. There is something about these burgers,” said Poag.
From superior food quality to delivery, Poag and his team control the process every step of the way. One of the benefits of having in-house delivery has been that Poag can transition some staff members to delivery drivers in order to retain them.
“We charge a delivery fee for every delivery and we let our delivery drivers keep that plus whatever tips come in. It’s been a good thing for them to stay employed, plus we save that 30 percent that you typically pay third-party delivery companies,” said Poag.
After Underground Burgers’ orders are completed, they’re bagged and packed into a GoBox for delivery.
“We use the GoBoxes specially for our delivery; we have four of them right now that we use. The feedback is fantastic. Our delivery drivers actually walk up to the front door with the GoBoxes and when we lift the lids off of these things, the steam just kind of pours out of the box. It creates such a great perception with the folks that we’re delivering to. They know it’s hot, they know it’s fresh. The Goboxes allow us to really create this wonderful takeout experience for our guests. We love it,” said Poag.
Poag says their ghost kitchen concept has become so popular that those profits have surpassed Jake’s.
“We love Jake’s, we love doing the barbecue, we love the dine-in and everything, but man, this Underground Burger now—that’s what people want. That’s what you have to provide for your clientele,” said Poag.
“Going to Jake’s may have been a once or twice a week opportunity, but now, we’re seeing people come in to get Jake’s and they’ll get Underground Burger sometimes four or five times a week because they know the value of the burger and the price point. It’s pretty cool to see that,” said Nguyen.
Many restaurant owners, like Poag, have found that their concepts aren’t conducive to Covid-19 restrictions. Poag encourages those struggling to be open to trying new things.
“We’ve done so many different things during this pandemic, and some have stuck, some have been gigantic flops, but probably 95 percent of the things that we tried, we’ve been pretty successful at. That’s thanks in large part to Andy’s hard work and dedication, and my wife having the belief in my crazy ideas,” said Poag.
Thinking about starting a ghost kitchen concept within your restaurant? Poag is open to sharing more about his experience with Underground Burger to help others see similar success. If you’re interested, contact him through Underground Burger’s Facebook page.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ADRIANA DESIDERIO IS THE DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER AT CAMBRO.