Friday, June 20, 2003

Terry Koethe, left, manages Mr. Goodburger's downtown eatery and Wes Zane is company vice president for operations. The restaurant, which serves only meatless burgers, just won the national Golden Buns Award from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Burger business
ready for big time

Two veteran carnivores are
about to franchise their
vegetarian eatery, Mr. Goodburger's

From their small restaurant on Queen and Alakea streets downtown, which opened in February 2002, two local entrepreneurs are getting ready to shake up both the fast-food world and vegetarians nationwide.

As serious carnivores for many years, Anthony Spadaro and Wes Zane seem the two men least likely to launch a chain of all-vegetarian burger joints.

Tony Spadaro is probably best known as the fourth generation of a family sausage-making business; while Zane ran Hy's Steakhouse in Waikiki for more than 20 years.

But when they launch their Mr. Goodburger's line of vegetarian burger restaurants on the mainland, the reason for their notoriety may change. Their first store opens in Missoula, Mont., next month with restaurants following in California; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Denver, Colo.; Washington, D.C.; and Florida.

They expect to franchise 100 stores in the first year and also are looking for franchisees who are interested in opening up in Japan.

The two men first came together over lunch two years ago when Zane went to talk to Spadaro about an idea he had for producing a local beefburger. Unknown to Zane, Spadaro had been busy experimenting with a line of meat-free soy-based products for a few years.

Six hours later the two came up with their plan to launch a chain of quick serve restaurants that would serve a range of veggie burgers. With Spadaro's production expertise and Zane's years of running a restaurant, the two believe they hit on a winning combination. Since that time, they've taken on other investors who each contribute something to the business, including expertise in advertising and branding products, Zane said.

Mr. Goodburger's on the corner of Queen and Alakea streets draws a crowd for lunch.

They plan to license out the recipe for the burger patties to a contract packager who'll create the batch mix, Zane said. Franchisees will be able to order all needed supplies on a secure company Web site.

Start-up costs for franchisees range from $135,000 to $165,000 depending on the size of the store. That includes a franchise fee of $25,000.

Generally the two biggest start-up costs for restaurants are grease traps and oven hoods, Zane said. Because grease is not involved in the cooking process, neither item is needed at Mr. Goodburger's.

"We use a panini grill -- similar to a George Foreman-type grill -- and the oven we use to bake our french fries is an electric convection oven."

Not needing as much space for cooking items also means the stores can be smaller -- ideally about 900 square feet, Zane said.

"That will also allow us to be more flexible on the places we can go," he said.

With a motto of "Living Healthy Never Tasted So Good," Zane said he believes their products will appeal to a large untapped market hungry for a healthy alternative, especially in light of the series of scandals that have dogged the meat industry in recent years.

It will also attract those who have to watch what they eat for medical reasons.

For Zane, who was diagnosed with severe blocked arteries and underwent angioplasty, to be able to open a string of restaurants that offer heart-healthy food has particular appeal.

"I never wanted to look back years later and have to say 'woulda, coulda, shoulda,' " he said.

Mr. Goodburger's has already attracted some attention nationally. This week the Honolulu restaurant was given "The Golden Bun" award by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Norfolk, Va.-based animal rights organization believes the veggie burger has come of age and it was time to accord it some recognition, said Joe Haptas, campaign coordinator for PETA.

According to PETA, the panel of judges included both vegetarians and meat-eaters in order to ensure that the widest cross-section of tastes and preferences was taken into account.

While a lot of major fast food chains are starting to carry vegetarian burgers, the award means Mr. Goodburger's stand out, Haptas said.

The judges also liked the fact that each Mr. Goodburger's veggie burger is named after a popular city and designed with that city's flair in mind, he said. For example, the San Antonio burger, reflecting its southwest origins, is topped with vegetarian chili, lettuce and tomatoes while the Sacramento burger includes an avocado topping.

Other cities include New Orleans, Memphis and, of course, Honolulu. The island burger has a patty that blends in nori and ginger, and a topping of pineapple and mango.

"Mr Goodburger's offers many different varieties, flavors and textures and they offer creative condiments so I believe they represent the cutting edge of veggie burgers," Haptas said.


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