THE WORD ON THE STREET IS "DAAAANG!"

Korea Times Interview with BCW CEO Don Southerton and Smashburger Korea

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Move over McDonald’s, a new restaurant serving “better burgers’’ may soon be coming to Korea.

Denver-based Smashburger is leading the way in the “better burger’’ movement, which means high-quality burgers at affordable prices, that is sweeping the U.S. right now.

Smashburger has partnered with Bridging Culture Worldwide, a consulting and cross-cultural management service, to look for a Korean franchise company to bring the restaurant chain to Korea.

In an interview with The Korea Times, Don Southerton, CEO and President of Bridging Culture Worldwide, said Smashburger is in negotiations with one major Korean company that has expressed serious interest in a franchise development agreement.

If the negotiations go well, Smashburger will open its first store in Seoul by 2011.

“I feel the Smashburger concept is a good fit for the `new’ Korea. It’s a very trendy, hip and cool place. It serves high-quality burgers that are more expensive, and will offer more salads. Their food scientists know that in the highly competitive U.S. market, if you don’t do anything exceptional, it’s not going to go anywhere,’’ Southerton said.

Smashburger, developed by Consumer Capital Partners, is considered one of the fastest growing “better burger’’ chains in the U.S., with more than 100 stores expected to be opened by the end of the year. The number of stores is expected to grow to 200 by 2011 and 400 by 2015.

Smashburgers are made with fresh and never frozen 100 percent Angus beef that has been smashed, seared and seasoned on the grill. All the burgers are cooked-to-order.

The menu features different kinds of Smashburgers: All-American, BBQ, Bacon & Cheese, Spicy Baja and Mushroom Swiss, as well as chicken sandwiches, fresh salads, hotdogs and French fries tossed in rosemary, olive oil and garlic.

Customers are also encouraged to create their own burgers and sandwiches, choosing different buns, cheeses, sauces, dressings and toppings. Smashburger outlets also serve wine and beer, as well as Haagen Daz milkshakes.

Even though the restaurant was only launched in the U.S. recently, Smashburger is already looking to expand internationally by entering fast-growing economies like the Middle East, Canada and Asia-Pacific.

“We look forward to beginning our international expansion for Smashburger and know South Korea is a great launch pad for our ‘better burger’ concept in Asia,” said Smashburger Chairman and CEO David Prokupek, in a statement.

Korea is seen as a good launching pad for Western businesses. Southerton said it is becoming more usual for these companies to open in Korea first, and then expand to other Asian countries.

“The new success model for Western companies is no longer about launching in Japan or Singapore first. The new model is finding a Korean partner that can be successful and take you around the Asia-Pacific region. The strategy definitely is to launch in Korea first, then move to China and Japan,’’ Southerton said.

The Korean burger market is growing rapidly, as global brands like McDonald’s and Burger King compete with local brands like Lotteria and Kraze Burger.

Southerton is confident Smashburger will appeal to Koreans’ tastes, and their desire for high-quality products and better dining experiences.

“Koreans want to upgrade to a better experience. Smashburger will appeal to that. The burgers are going to have mid-range prices, not that expensive, and the place will serve wine and beer. Plus there’s a cool ambience,’’ Southerton said.