Belfast Telegraph

Barack Obama seal of approval fast food restaurant to open in Northern Ireland

By Margaret Canning

A US fast-food chain with the seal of approval of no less than US President Barack Obama is opening up in Northern Ireland.

Five Guys is sussing out locations in Belfast as it prepares a roll-out of at least 10 sites across the island.

It is dubbed a "no-frills burger joint" focused on serving burgers and fries in a "clean, friendly environment".

A franchise for the massively-successful brand has been secured by the sons of billionaire Irish financier Dermot Desmond - including Brett Desmond, the husband of songstress and actress Andrea Corr.

Before its onslaught on this side of the border, there will be around five of the burger joints in Dublin.

The company said: "Five Guys have built an almost cult-like following across the world for their menu of top-quality food that is prepared fresh and on a daily basis.

"There are no freezers in any of their restaurants, with fries cooked using peanut oil (healthier than normal methods)."

Its offering also includes kosher-style hot dogs, and grilled cheese and vegetable sandwiches.

The business began in 1986 when Jerry and Janie Murrell advised their four sons: "Start a business or go to college."

The boys chose business, and the Murrell family soon opened a carry-out burger joint in Arlington, Virginia.

Now there are more than 1,200 locations across North America and Britain.

Criona Collins, director of retail at commercial property specialists Lambert Smith Hampton, said Five Guys could shake up the casual dining scene in Northern Ireland.

"The potential arrival of a chain such as Five Guys to Northern Ireland illustrates the appeal our local market now has for international food businesses.

"Five Guys is the fastest-growing casual dining restaurant business in the US and a fantastic operation.

"It would undoubtedly be a great addition to the overall offer in Northern Ireland if they do choose to open some sites here."

She added: "With other renowned food brands such as YO Sushi! choosing to come to Belfast in recent months, it is clear that the Northern Ireland consumer is open to trying new culinary experiences if those experiences match up to their discerning standards."

John McKenna, Northern Ireland-born author of the McKennas' food guides, said fast-casual brands such as Five Guys were a step-up from traditional fast-food chains like McDonald's.

But with established fast-casual brands such as Gourmet Burger already cutting a dash in the Republic, it may not be straightforward for Five Guys.

"It remains to be seen if an imported franchised fast-casual will work in Ireland," he said.

"I think it probably will, because fast food is on the way out and, as people trade up - as they always do with food and drink - they want something that says quality, and the price is secondary."

He said Five Guys might face the challenge of appearing less authentic than Gourmet Burger and others like it. "My feeling is it will grab the aspirational burger market - people who want a burger but don't want to feel bad about it.

"I suspect that market is substantial, and growing. I also suspect the Desmond boys want to use it to move into Europe."

Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne also sang the praises of the Five Guys concept - and said their arrival could be good news for Northern Ireland suppliers.

"I'm very familiar with Five Guys. It originally started in the southern states of the US and they soon spread to New York, Las Vegas and Miami," he said.

"The one I tried in New York three years ago was brilliant. Sacks of potatoes from Idaho are lined up in full view, burgers are made from high quality ground beef and the whole experience is best described as industrial.

"I'm glad to see them coming here as I imagine they'll be great buyers of local beef and potatoes."

Belfast Telegraph