Former Fugate exec brings concept to Wichita hoping for smashing success

Smashburger, which operates seven Denver restaurants, is trying to carve a niche in the ultra-competitive $100 billion hamburger industry, beginning with a new store in the Wichita market.

The chain’s eighth store opens Tuesday near 35th Street N. and Woodlawn. Another location will open at an undisclosed west Wichita location next summer.

Described by the company as something between Burger King and Red Robin, Smashburger – led by company president and former Wichitan Scott Crane – has created a loyal following with its fast-casual concept.

“I know the market well, and I think, overall, the economy is strong there and unemployment is less than the national average.” Crane says. “Just knowing the market, I’d like to stay tied to Wichita.”

While he lives in Denver, Crane still considers Wichita his home.
Fitting in

For 14 years, Crane was the executive vice president of Fugate Enterprises, which operates more than 300 Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Sonic and Blockbuster Video stores in Kansas. He says he understands the Wichita market and knows the competition.

The belief is that Smashburger fills a void.

“There’s really no strong player in this fast-casual, better-burger segment,” says Joe Hodas, spokesperson for Smashburger.

“… You can not only appeal to those going to a Red Robin, who want something cheaper and quicker, but you can also appeal to those people who go to McDonald’s and Burger King and want something a little more quality.”

Craig Steven, co-owner of Spangles, says every restaurant in Wichita is competition.

“A lot of restaurants come in, some of them make it, some of them don’t,” he says. “We just do our own things. We have our own identity and concept.”
How it’s done

The Smashburger reflects its name.

Balls of 80:20 (beef-to-fat ratio) hamburger are smashed between a spatula and a butter-coated griddle, allowing the fat to caramelize into a crust on the burger. It’s topped with seasonings, specialty toppings or vegetables and served with a side and a drink.

Chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and salads are also available.

Crane says the average meal is $8, and in Denver customers can be in and out in 22-23 minutes.

The store serves beer, wine and Haagen-Dazs shakes and floats, too.