Smashburger a Smash Hit in New Jersey
Livingston restaurateur helps spreads better burger concept across Garden State.
Scott Gillman knows a good thing when he sees it. So when Gillman heard about a new company called Smashburger a few years ago, he wanted to be a part of it.
“I visited company headquarters in Denver and liked what I saw,” said Gillman, a Livingston resident and longtime restaurateur who also owns Cinnabon, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Carvel at the Livingston Mall.
Fast-forward to 2012, and Gillman now has seven Smashburger franchises – including locations in Montclair (at 989 Bloomfield Avenue), New Providence and Florham Park – and plans to open up 30 more throughout northern and central New Jersey. An East Hanover store is set to open within weeks.
Smashburger is known for its signature cooking style. Cooks take a ball of meat and smash it on the grill, making a nicely caramelized crust and a very juicy burger.
“All our food is made to order, from scratch,” said Gillman. “The burgers are very juicy, have a great taste and are consistent.”
The restaurant also takes pride in its service, and trains staff to give customer what they want – whether a free refill, a specially cooked burger or a complimentary item if the customer isn’t satisfied.
“We teach our staff how to wow guests,” Gillman said.
The company’s culture has drawn accolades from the business community. Business Insider recently singled out Smashburger as one of “5 Hot Brands to Watch” in 2012 and Forbes Magazines dubbed it “America’s Most Promising Company.”
What are Gillman’s favorite menu items? “I don’t eat a lot of burgers,” he confessed, “and I only eat them at Smashburger.” His preferred combo is American cheese, tomato, grilled onions and ketchup. He also likes the chicken sandwich, which he orders with mushrooms, Swiss and grilled onions on a multigrain bun with mayo.
Smashfries, tossed with rosemary and garlic, are another favorite and he is especially fond of the Oreo Milkshake. The shake was created specifically for the New Jersey stores (Nabisco is headquartered in New Jersey) and became such a hit it is now sold at Smashburgers nationwide.
“We try to offer some regional specialties,” he said, such as the New Jersey burger (applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese crumbles, grilled onions, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato and mayo on an onion bun.) What is Jersey about it? “It was sort of inspired by the salad in Greek diners,” he said. The restaurants also carry New Jersey-based Best’s Beef hotdogs.
Has Gillman ever tried to cook a burger at one of his stores? “Yes, and it’s hard,” he said. Cooks must master a tricky 17-step process that requires speed, coordination and several months of training.
Not surprisingly, Gillman’s two children, ages 19 and 21, love Smashburger. In fact, on a recent visit home from college, his son had a late-night craving and was crushed to learn that the restaurant was closed. “I told him they couldn’t stay open just for him,” said Gillman wryly.
Gillman thinks the company’s success is due to its commitment to constant improvement and superior customer service. “It’s the whole energy, the employees get really excited.” He noted an email he recently received from a customer that read, “I was grumpy when I came in, but when I left I was smiling.”
Said Gillman: “If we can do that with a $5 burger, that’s a great thing.”
Related Topics: Smashburger