Tom Ryan of Smashburger and Tom’s Urban 24 dishes on food trends

Posted:   03/14/2013 12:01:00 AM MDT

By Douglas Brown
The Denver Post

Restaurant owners tend to be chefs, or people with a lot of money who want to get some skin in the food business (and usually, it’s both). Tom Ryan, the guy behind Smashburger and now Tom’s Urban 24 in Larimer Square, is a little bit different.

The Michigan native, 56, has an undergraduate degree in food science, a master’s degree in lipid toxicology (the study of fat-induced toxins in the diet) and a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry, all from Michigan State. He spent most of his career at fast-food leviathans like Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. When he left the land of Ronald McDonald, he was the corporation’s “worldwide chief concept officer.”

He managed to wriggle free from the golden handcuffs and, with partners, started Smashburger. After just five and a half years, the chain has 200 locations.

Ryan’s newest venture, Tom’s, is altogether different. Sure, it’s got burgers and fries, sodas and suds. But it also serves truffled lobster and shrimp pot pie, filet mignon steak salad, and cocktails like “applejacked,” involving Leopold Bros. apple whiskey, vermouth, orange liqueur and bitters.

This popular American franchise is planning expansion in Saudi Arabia in both traditional and non-traditional locations, including an airport site in 2013. Recently named “America’s Most Promising Company” by Forbes magazine, Smashburger is on pace to become an international favorite as well.  The opening of Smashburger’s first Saudi Arabian restaurant marks the fourth international country for the brand outside the United States. Such international growth will continue as Smashburger targets more locations in the Middle East, specifically Turkey, and makes plans for expansion into North Africa over the next couple of years.

“There is a strong appetite for premium American brands in the Middle East.  Smashburger is at the top of the list,” said Mr. Kamel Ismail, the franchise operator for Saudi Arabia.  “We looked to partner with Smashburger specifically because we knew the reputation of quality behind their product.  The people of Saudi Arabia will be surprised and delighted with how good these burgers taste.”

Smashburger, a brand that has built its reputation on fresh, made-to-order beef that is “smashed” and seared to lock in the juices of the burger, offers a regional recipe in every market.  In Saudi Arabia, the 100 percent Certified Halal Angus Beef local burger is topped with Saudi spices, cheddar cheese, red onion, lettuce, pickles, tomato and tahini sauce on a spicy chipotle bun. Guests can also opt for the same delicious recipe on its Saudi Chicken sandwich. The restaurant also serves a selection of irresistible sides, beverages and hand-spun Häagen-Dazs® shakes, including the locally-inspired Almond Sesame milkshake.

About Smashburger

Smashburger is America’s fastest growing, fast casual “better burger” restaurant with 200 corporate and franchise restaurants operating in 29 states and in four international countries.  The company began in 2007 with the vision of Rick Schaden and funding by Consumer Capital Partners—the private equity firm that he and his father Richard own. By offering fresh, premium “smashed to order” burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, signature side items and hand-spun Haagen-Dazs shakes, Smashburger has modernized the way people think about burgers.  Known for localizing its menu in every market with regionally inspired burgers and side items and offering local craft beers, Smashburger has received numerous awards including topping Fast Casual’s 2012 Top Mover & Shakers list, America’s Most Promising Company by Forbes magazine, INC. 500’s List of America’s Fastest Growing Companies INC’s #9 Hire Power Award winner, and is regularly voted “best burger’ in cities all around the world.  To learn more, visit



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