Fuddruckers, the burger joint known for its wedge-cut fries and make-your-own cheese, is making a comeback in its home state of Texas.
Black Titan Franchise Systems, a North Carolina fast food franchise operator, purchased Fuddruckers in July 2021 and plans to open 10 new restaurants at Brookfield Properties malls in five states. Fuddruckers Express booths in Dallas-Fort Worth will be located at Hulen Mall in Fort Worth, Town East Mall in Mesquite and Parks Mall in Arlington.
They should open before the end of 2022, says new CEO Nicholas Perkins.
Other Fuddruckers outside of North Texas will go to mall food courts in San Antonio, Houston, Carlsbad, California, Durham, North Carolina, Hoover, Alabama and Atlanta.
The deal is surprising news to many, as the Securities and Exchange Commission said in February 2021 that “liquidation is imminent” for Fuddruckers and its sister restaurant, Luby’s Cafeteria.
“The media had written extensively about the company’s shutdown, so I’m not surprised there was a sense that the brand might have gone extinct,” Perkins says. “And it was very real; it could have been. But we were lucky enough to acquire it and keep it alive.
Terms of the agreement between Black Titan Franchise Systems and Fuddruckers were not disclosed. Howard University, where Perkins earned an MBA, reported the deal at $18.5 million.
Luby’s and Fuddruckers were separated during the sale, and Luby’s was bought by entrepreneur Calvin Gin, whose family business is in the aircraft food preparation services industry and Starbucks.
Perkins’ venture with Brookfield is part of its initiative called the Partner to Empower Program, which matches black business owners with development opportunities at its malls.
Perkins is already franchised for Chick-fil-A, Church’s Chicken and Pizza Hut. He owns a business that services cafeterias at colleges and military installations; they serve about 100,000 meals a week.
What about existing Fuddruckers?
Fuddruckers was opened in San Antonio in 1979 by Phil Romano, the Dallas restaurateur who went on to establish Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Eatzi’s, Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-BQ, and a dozen others.
Romano says he was inspired by McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, a burger he said was pretty good but could have been more gourmet. “I said, how do you make a better burger? he says.
His original Fuddruckers — and the hundreds that would follow — ground burger meat in-house and baked buns on the spot. The staff put burger toppings in the dining room for customers to select their favorites, then squirt cheese on top.
When Perkins bought Fuddruckers more than 30 years after its founding, the company had just under 100 existing restaurants in its network. Perkins’ role is to be the franchisor of these restaurants, in addition to starting the 10 new hamburger joints in the malls.
Perkins’ first plan is to stabilize Fuddruckers, he says. He wants to fix the “extremely fragmented” supply chain, change technology and spend money on marketing to reach potential customers when they re-enter markets like D-FW.
“It’s been tough, as you can imagine, turning a company around,” says Perkins. “It was, on many fronts, a rebirth, a rebranding of the company.”
What’s new, what’s not
The three malls will bring Fuddruckers back to Dallas-Fort Worth “in a major way,” Perkins said. However, they won’t be the Fuddruckers of the past; they will be faster-service restaurants with leaner menus than before.
The best seller was the 1/3 pound burger, and Perkins expects it to be popular in new restaurants as well. Customers will still be able to pour their own cheese on their burger or fries, but for food safety reasons, customers will no longer dress their own burgers with lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables.
Perkins didn’t grow up near a Fuddruckers, but he says he visited the burger joint while traveling. “You develop an affinity for it very early on,” he says. He’s aware that some of those nostalgic moments can’t be removed from the faster, newer locations of Fuddruckers Express.
“If we don’t have cheese sauce, it’s not Fuddruckers,” he says.
Menus will now have plant-based burgers. His team has also expanded the dessert menu, with a particular focus on milkshakes and soft drinks.
Beyond the 10 Fuddruckers coming to malls, the company will also sell delivery-only burgers, fries and wings in Houston, Austin, Plano and Frisco.
The four shadow kitchens will operate inside commercial kitchens operated by Kitchen United. Customers will probably never visit these kitchens; they are designed to be high volume facilities with a large delivery area.
Perkins hopes Fuddruckers’ “world’s largest burgers,” as the tagline goes, will serve a wide range of people in Collin and Dallas counties.
Why the name “Fuddruckers”?
Romano had a slight affinity for Fudpucker World Airways, a “mainly imaginary” group of pilots known for their silly name.
“That was funny,” Romano said when he converted the word Fudpucker to Fuddruckers.
He had to defend the name over the years to wary customers who thought it was a dirty word. Fuddruckers was just meant to make people’s heads spin, to make them curious, Romano says.
But he also had to defend the name in court. Romano has kept the singsong attitude ever since he started the burger joint.
“Their attorney asked me if there was a crude, vulgar definition of the Fuddruckers,” Romano recalled. “I said ‘No, not in my head. If it’s in your mind, you have I have a problem.'”