Polarising US burger chain launches in Oz

carlsjrControversial US burger chain, Carl’s Jr., launched its debut Australian store on the NSW Central Coast earlier this month. 

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The NSW Central Coast is the location of the first Australian store for US premium burger chain, Carl’s Jr, which has been hyped and criticised in equal parts of late.

Carl’s Jr is the latest retailer to lease space at Bateau Bay Square shopping centre, kicking off a deal between the global fast food chain and local operator, BKG Group, to open 10 new Carl’s Jr. restaurants on the central, mid and northern NSW coasts.

This move fills a gap in the market, according to BKG Group general manager, Lindsay Brennan.

“This is the top end of the quick service restaurant – premium burgers, large burgers, but still a quick service restaurant with a drive-through,” Brennan explained to Inside Retail Weekly.  

“We have a license to do 10 stores in five years in our territory, which is from the Hawkesbury to Coffs Harbour, inland to Tamworth and down the New England Highway. We see the potential for more than 10 down the track, but the initial license is 10.”

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The family business was first to off-licence alcohol in NSW around 30 years ago and owns BYO Cellars, running 18 bottle shops through the mid and northern NSW coasts.

“Our bottle shops are in that same geographical area – that’s where we have a reasonable idea of the market,” said Brennan. “We know the people, and we’re a family company and we think that’s plenty of scope for us.”

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Currently the business is looking for other sites – focusing on vibrant shopping centres with lots of passing traffic. Brennan said busy roads in close proximity to populations in shopping centres are ideal, adding that, “three other sites on major and busy roads have already been acquired.”

There’s already been DA approval for a Tamworth store, and two others are being worked on – in Newcastle, and another in West Gosford on the Central Coast.

“We would like to continue to develop the Central Coast – Newcastle [area] before going into the major regional towns,” Brennan said.

Driven by diversification
BKG Group’s partnership with Carl’s Jr to bring the oft-controversial QSR brand Down Under came about as the company was looking for diversification.

“We investigated what was required for fast food franchises and we sat on the idea for awhile til we saw on the website that Carl’s Jnr wanted to come to Australia,” Brennan explained. “Then we wrote them a letter.”

Following correspondence and a call from Ned Lyerly, president – international, of the chain’s owner, CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc in the US, a site visit was undertaken in the US which confirmed Carl’s Jr. would fill a gap in the market for gourmet burgers at fast food prices.

The deal is part of an ambitious plan by CKE Restaurants to open 300 Carl’s Jr. restaurants in Australia over the next 10-15 years. This follows the 2011 launch of Carl’s Jr. in New Zealand, where there are now around 20 stores successfully operating.

These also form part of the international reach of Carl’s Jr. which sees a total of 3,652 franchised or company owned stores in 37 countries including the US, New Zealand, Canada, Columbia and Guatemala.

So, does the Aussie version differ much to its sister offer in the US?

“The American Carl’s still has a bit of the feel of a 50s American diner and we’ve gone quite upmarket,” Brennan explained.

“It’s upmarket of our competition, but we’ve got premium products we believe [so] we needed a premium asset to go with it.”

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Such premium menu items include 100 per cent Angus Beef Thickburgers, chargrilled and hand-breaded chicken and hand-scooped ice cream shakes.

The décor is what’s often described as ‘modern industrial’ – characterised by polished concrete floors, very high ceilings featuring exposed air-conditioning, the favoured use of steel and different shapes and angles. Wood as well as gloss white, red and black tiles have also been used while freestanding stools have a wood finish. However the lounge seating is all leather, adding to the upmarket feel. Inside and outside seating totals around 90. In addition, digital images run through the store, adding an element of class to what is essentially a quick service restaurant.

“We are using the American cutting edge advertising to promote to the 18-35 age group,” Brennan observed.

The guacamole burger and Portobello mushroom burgers are particularly popular menu items. Opening day saw very long queues forming to snap up the promotion of a free year of burgers to the first 50 people, the popularity continuing in the first week, which was still witnessing 40-50 metre queues at the time of going to press.  

A welcome tenant
Naturally, given the attention Carl’s Jr. has lapped up in the lead up to the launch of the first Australian store, Bateau Bay Square has warmly welcomed its newest retailer.

“We are very happy to welcome Carl’s Jr. to our centre and we will work in partnership with them to locate other stores within our retail portfolio, as the chain expands its Australian presence,” Centre manager, Gary Morrison said.

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“Known as a leader for creating innovative, high quality tasty products, the addition of Carl’s Jr. to the centre ensures that we are providing our shoppers with an experience they cannot get anywhere else,” he said.

Owned by Charter Hall Group, Bateau Bay Square is well located and home to Aldi, Coles, Kmart, Woolworths and over 85 specialty stores.

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