American tradition has always favored the hamburger and French fry menu, as evidenced by the continued growth of fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King. There is something about the simplicity of this meat and potato diet that continues to attract people, despite the almost non-stop warnings from health officials about how the food may be dangerous to our health. But after 50 years and counting, people of all ages continue to make the hamburger and fry faire a part of their normal lifestyle.
This is not saying the diet choice has become a habit, but it is a concept that Habit Burger Grill apparently picked up on some 50 years ago. With its beginnings in 1969 in the small town of Irvine, California, it expanded to a whopping 23 restaurants over the next 38 years. Obviously not a stunning expansion, but this was the 1970's before the Internet and social media. The main locations were in the Los Angeles and Southern California areas, so not many people heard about the company’s steady but humble history of success.
McDonalds and Burger King
One of the reasons for the turtle-like expansion was that those two major burger franchises, McDonalds and Burger King, has a decade head start over all of its competition, and Habit Burger Grill likely believed it couldn’t compete on a national level. That all changed when in 2007 the business was bought out by the private equity firm of KarpReilly who then brought the company into the national spotlight. They saw that when you have a great product and provide great service,other people should know about it.
As a matter of burger history, Burger King had its beginnings on the East Coast in Florida, while McDonalds had opened its first restaurant at about the same time in the Midwest, in Des Plaines, Illinois. On the West Coast was Jack in the Box, a brand that at one time had become a national burger joint but has since receded and largely limited itself to the West and Southwest regions of the United States. On a note of burger history, Jack in the Box has only itself to blame for its shrinking market share and subsequent retreat.
It shouldn’t be hard to realize that Habit Burger Grill was up against some very tough competition in its early days, and its decision to take things slowly was apparently a prudent one. What KarpReilly recognized was that times had changed, and people were looking for something new and innovative without significantly deviating from the brand’s traditional burger and fry menu.
The True Char Broil King
When you hear the phrase “char broiled” you might think of Burger King or some type of home grilling product. But char broiled is the way that Habit Burger Grill makes their burgers, and it has struck a chord in the hearts of burger lovers around the country. They also have veggie burgers to continue to be relevant, but what you will find when you stop in to a Habit Burger Grill restaurant is a quality of food that most other restaurants find hard to compete with. One unique part of the food chain is it has 9 food trucks that will bring the food to you – sort of. From a marketing perspective ask yourself if you would buy a McDonalds or Burger King burger from a truck.
By 2014 the business had expanded its growth to 109 stores, almost four times the number of stores it had when acquired by KarpReilly. Currently it is one of the fastest growing food chains in America, so it is worth looking at their offerings and reviews to see why people are choosing to make stopping in at Habit a habit.
When you stop in at a Habit Burger Grill you will find on their burger menu:
- Portabella burger
- BBQ Bacon Charburger
- Teriyaki Charburger
- Santa Barbara Char
Instead of just serving beef from the animals that go “moo!” their menu offers a number of unique types of burger flavors that are hard to find anywhere else. All except the Santa Barbara Char are served on the traditional bun, but you will get Grilled Sourdough with the Santa Barbara choice along with avocado and cheese to complete the burger. These are hardly your local McDonalds or Burger King options.
If you are not in the mood for a beefy burger, there are not only chicken options but tuna and veggie burgers as well. To its credit, the veggie burger is not listed in the burger menu options making vegans and anti-vegans both happy customers. And if you are looking for something really light they have a salad menu that includes the traditional Garden Salad and Caesar Salad choices.
More Healthy Choices
What Habit Burger Grill has done is to give its customers a number of very American and healthy options in addition to the usual burger joint offerings. They have created a market for people who want something different from the lettuce, tomato, and “special sauce” that generally are what you are allowed to choose from. By making the expected burger choices available and adding something that will suit the taste of most people regardless of age, they have made the restaurant chain a one stop stop for people who want something that is faster and simpler than the usual faire.
Can't Forget the Milkshake
Something that the chain has not forgotten about is the early tradition of having an ice cream or shake with their burger. Back in the 1950’s they were often called malted. (Yes, there is a technical difference between a malted and a shake, but a dash of malt doesn’t make the basic shake that much different). For older Americans, old habits die hard, and sitting down in a restaurant with a burger, fries, and shake makes life a bit nostalgic. Younger Americans find their handmade shakes and ice cream desserts a welcome change from the often watered-down soft serve flavors at the competition’s stores. It seems worth mentioning here that they do have a separate section for malteds with a choice of chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, mocha, and coffee flavors. Obviously they know their customers better than some people.
It should be noted that they have a Kid’s Menu, but it is sparse. They seem to realize that if your kids don’t like burgers, chicken, or salad then you as a parent need to go to parenting classes. Even vegans don’t have a case here. In 2014, the Habit Burger Grill earned the award for America’s Best Tasting Burger.
We will move into the customer reviews here shortly, but there are a few things that need to be mentioned first. After a review of many of the customer complaints, many of them seem to be so petty as though they expect perfection. They do have a large social media presence including Facebook so you can see for yourself. On the other side of the coin, many very happy customers defend the food and the service they get. You will have to decide for yourself, so keep in mind that a search for “Habit Burger Grill” results in review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp in the top 10 list. This means that a lot of people have something to say about the company.
One of the complaints was that a man was accused by the manager of using the available water cups for soda to give to their kids. Twice. Now when you get quality food at a reasonable price, is it too much to ask to buy a soda? At other burger joints you have to ask for a cup for just about anything. By the way, you do have the option to order online, depending on your location.
Moving on from the people who tend to get a bit cheap are the fad dieters who give much of the food at Habit a big fat OK. One poster noted that the French fries are actually made from sweet potatoes, and this group is really picky about what is allowed on their Whole 30 diet plan. These people can get really picky, so the fact that eating at Habit as a made-to-order option makes it at least worth looking into. According to a Consumer Reports burger chain survey, Habit Burger Grill was deemed to have a better tasting burger than some of the more established brands, such as Five Guys, Steak ‘n Shake, and In-N-Out.
Continuing on the diet-and-healthy minded group, you should be warned that those malted and handmade ice cream treats are packed with calories – and sugar. Of course, this is right in line with the tradition of the 1950’s hamburger places, so it is to be expected. On the healthy side of the place are the superfood options which include their variety of salads. The website Eatthis.com interestingly notes that while many hamburger-type restaurants tend to lean towards the male side of preferred foods, Habit Burger Grill has found the gender sweet spot. This makes it not only family-friendly, but also a place to go on a date when you’re not sure of the political correctness of the other person.
One of the most unique features of the business is their Pepper Bar. This makes a lot of sense since having a grill person scurry around to make your order right with the many options Habit offers will almost certainly result in a mistake in an order. If you like a choice of hot sauces and peppers with your salad or burger, you can just wander over to the Pepper Bar and make your meal just that much more flavorful. If you are someone who is watching their carb count, you can request their burgers to be wrapped with lettuce instead of the traditional carbohydrate laden bun. Also, applesauce is a replacement option for fries.
You may be thinking at this point that the Habit Burger Grill is a place for the healthy-minded, and you would be right! One of the reasons the chain is growing – currently having restaurants in 35 states – is that it has hit the right balance between taste and health. Younger people are becoming more critical of the ingredients, many unknown up until now, that is present in the major fast food chains. While the char broiled feature is an essential part of its marketing and branding campaigns, people who actually buy food there find it to be an excellent alternative to its much larger competitors.
One sticking point is that cheese carries an extra charge with a burger. There are people who are on non-dairy and gluten-free diets, so with the customer in mind Habit has opted to make sure its customers get food that meets their specific health needs as much as possible.
It is clear that Habit Burger Grill has just about everything you could want from a fast food restaurant. There are more than a few reviews that mention the speed of the service as “acceptable” but not fast. Now people have to be willing to make some trade-offs in favor of getting a higher quality meal and a higher level of service. Keep in mind that they do not use microwaves, which means that many things simply take time to cook.
When you consider how many reviews from food critics cite the fact that the ingredients are both healthy and of high quality, you should pause to consider that you get this at a very reasonable price. There are many “specialty” restaurants that will charge you considerably more – and make you wait much longer. When you ask yourself where it is you can go to get the combination of “faster food”, healthy food, and flavored to order, you can understand why Habit Burger Grill continues to make headlines and may soon be what McDonalds and Burger King can only hope to be.
Written by Bill Vix
Read more posts by Bill Vix