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Five Guys Falling on Hard Times?


Vicious Wadd
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For those of you in the DC Metro area, the burger joint Five Guys has something of a cult following. I have dined at only one location in the chain, the Five Guys in Woodstock, VA, just off I-81. Now the point of my story...

I just visited my in-laws a couple weeks ago and the topic of Five Guys came up. My mother-in-law said she tried the one near Potomac, MD (recently opened, I believe) and said the food was terrible. It wasn't even cooked to order, just kept under a heat lamp she said. I was a bit surprised, having really liked the burgers from the Woodstock location. So I urged her to stop by the one there for a second chance. (It's on the way to a cabin they have in WV, in case you're wondering why anyone would undertake such a trip for a burger).

Fast forward to the next day: my wife and I are heading back from said cabin and we're on 81 North around lunch time -- so we decide to stop by the Five Guys in Woodstock... It's gone. Shuttered up. A big banner is draped across the front window announcing a soon-to-open Mexican Restaurant.

We head across the street to a local shopping mall looking for an alternative. I stop in an Italian pizza/sub/pasta joint and order some take out; then head back outside to check on the wife, who's outside with the dog.

The misses is already knee deep in conversation with two women on lunchbreak from Walmart (dogs are great conversation starters). What they said really surprised me: "I knew they wouldn't last! You can't charge $5 for a hamburger when you can get one at McDonald's for $1.00!" People don't have that kind of money here! Not in this economy!"

I go back inside the Italian joint to get the food. The owner walks up, says it'll be a couple more minutes. So I say: "I see Five Guys closed." He gets this smirk on his face, and in a very heavy Italian accent (guess the place is authentic!) he says: "Who gonna pay fi' dollars for a hamburger? I mean, dey cook on grill like dat (motions to stainless grill behind him)... if they cook on a-coal, ok... I could see... maybe... you a-charge more, but dey cook on same grill I a-charge hamburger for two dolla'! People wan' hamburger, dey come here. Get same a-ting. Dis isn''t Northern Virginia! People here na' gonna pay fi' dolla' for hamburger when you can getta for two dolla'!"

Between Woodstock and Potomac, a couple bad patterns seem to emerge: (1) a worsening economy resulting in the failure of a location with good quality control; and (2) a new location with poor quality control serving bad burgers.

Did Five Guys expand too fast?

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I don't know what's going on elsewhere, but they are building one just off 14th by the Metro Stop in Columbia Heights, kinda across from Target.

And the one at the ballpark has the longest line of any stand in the place (including that Cajun place-what the hell is up with that? There's nothing there that is even remotely Louisiana oriented. Just wannabes). And, surprisingly, it's pretty good. Even when the Nats make you regularly feel like you want to throw up.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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We tried Five Guys once when it first opened in Jacksonville (it was supposed to be a "cult thing"). The burger was overpriced and mediocre. The setting was pedestrian - even by Jacksonville standards. The fries were limp and too salty. My golf club serves a burger dinner for $14 which is excellent (comes complete with beautiful carmelized onions). I will pay that much for a superior burger experience in a lovely setting - but not $5-7 for Five Guys. Note that I eat burgers and fries about once a month - they're a special treat for me. I suspect the average person who does fast food burgers multiple times a week will go to McDonald's or the like instead of Five Guys. Robyn

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It's certainly not that great, but the one where I live is doing fine.

At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since. ‐ Salvador Dali

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I walked into the Five Guys in Manhattan.. I have heard so much talk about the place.. On yelp, half the people love it, the other half hate it... Eater, midtown lunch, all have discussed Five Guys to great length... Me being a burger fan, I was looking forward to at least forming my own opinion..

I walked into the place which was half full around dinner time... On my way up to the counter, I saw everyone's thin little grey patties... Fries didnt look particularly hot either.. Hot meaning good..

By the time I got to the counter , I was so turned off by the place, I couldnt bring myself to order anything.. I told myself the place stinks and I walked out...

I wish them luck, the same way I want anyone to do well.. But to me, it looks nothing different then a worse version of BK or McDonalds..

I think its like this, one day there were no Five Guys. Then there were Five Guys everywhere.. One day there will be some Five Guys somewhere..

Edited by Daniel (log)
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So you went to the restaraunt and left without trying anything, but you think you have enough information to post a highly negative review? Wow.

I actually ate at a 5 Guys last week in Rockville and I thought the food was rather good for what it was. They quick fry thin patties and want to serve you a burger with two on them, which I think is their solution to how to serve a reasonably juicy medium well burger.

Burgers were good, not like a steakhouse burger, but good. Fries where fresh, hot, not overly greasy and abundant.

I'd go again.

I suspect the experience folks are having in other locations is just the growing pains of any franchise. We'll see how they adjust.

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There are three Five Guys in Wilmington, DE - two of which I have eaten at. I personally love them. They aren't like a grilled burger you could make in your backyard, but they are made fresh, and are juicy and beefy and yummy! Sometimes the fries I have gotten have been soggy, buy usually they are crispy, and they are definitely a cut above your fast food burger, or what you get from a place that doesn't specialize in burgers.

I could go to any number of places that are more expensive and pay $3-$10 more (on average) and get something about the same. Or I could pay less and get something definitely not as good. Why would I do that?

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Thanks for the replies, folks. It was interesting to note how varied the experiences were. Just to throw my own into the mix, as I mentioned, my single point of reference being the Woodstock location, it was:

- Clean and well staffed

- The fries were fresh cut (the bags of potatoes actually lined the walls)

- The burgers were grilled to order. They were not greasy.

- As well, the fries were crisp, not greasy.

It was several orders of magnitude better than BK, McDonalds, Wendy's and the like.

I would gladly pay the extra premium to duplicate that experience, but it appears quality varies widely from location to location.

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I've been to Five Guys twice and am mystified by the cult following. The fries are decent, but the burgers are awful...fried to grayness and topped with something that barely even approximates cheese. I can see one from my office window but I'd rather go hungry than ever eat there again.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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So you went to the restaraunt and left without trying anything, but you think you have enough information to post a highly negative review?  Wow.

What was highly negative.. I just shared an experience.. I didnt like the way the food looked.. I didnt say I didnt like the way it tasted.. Nothing to wow about.. I have eaten enough burgers to make a basic assessment.. You should be happy, more grey burgers for you..

Edited by Daniel (log)
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I work near, and have only eaten at, what I believe to be the original Five Guys located in Arlington, Virginia. Perhaps it's because it was the original, I can honestly say that every burger and every order of fries I've ever had has been delicious. The burgers there at least are not grey in any way but hot and juicy and the fries are always served crisp and hot with just the right amount of salt with malt vinegar available as well. Their sodas are just regular fountain sodas you can get anywhere, nothing special. They can be a bit pricey but to compare their burgers with McDonalds is just plain crazy, I mean you get what you pay for.

My only criticisms are what they don't have considering that they are a burger joint:

- No onion rings

- No milk shakes or ice cream floats

- They sell hot dogs but don't offer chili as a topping

- They need to scale down their "small" order of fries which is a pretty huge serving for one person IMHO

Maybe they did expand too quickly, but the original Arlington location still seems to be going strong.

Curse you Vicious Wadd I'm having a serious craving for Five Guys right now! I wonder why? :laugh::hmmm:

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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I work near, and have only eaten at, what I believe to be the original Five Guys located in Arlington, Virginia. Perhaps it's because it was the original, I can honestly say that every burger and every order of fries I've ever had has been delicious. The burgers there at least are not grey in any way but hot and juicy and the fries are always served crisp and hot with just the right amount of salt with malt vinegar available as well. Their sodas are just regular fountain sodas you can get anywhere, nothing special. They can be a bit pricey but to compare their burgers with McDonalds is just plain crazy, I mean you get what you pay for.

My only criticisms are what they don't have considering that they are a burger joint:

- No onion rings

- No milk shakes or ice cream floats

- They sell hot dogs but don't offer chili as a topping

- They need to scale down their "small" order of fries which is a pretty huge serving for one person IMHO

Maybe they did expand too quickly, but the original Arlington location still seems to be going strong.

Curse you Vicious Wadd I'm having a serious craving for Five Guys right now! I wonder why? :laugh:  :hmmm:

If that original Arlington location is in the Clarendon / Courthouse area, then that's right up the road from where I work (Ballston), so I'll have to give that one a try. Usually not the kind of lunch I would want during the work week though (burp) :blink:

Just as a personal anecdote, my wife's office is in the general vicinity and two of her employer's recent Italian interns became total Five Guys junkies while they lived here. She said they ate there several days per week.

I can picture them returning to the old world with 10 pounds of lard around their waist from all that American fast food.

Edited by Vicious Wadd (log)
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If that original Arlington location is in the Clarendon / Courthouse area, then that's right up the road from where I work (Ballston), so I'll have to give that one a try.  Usually not the kind of lunch I would want during the work week though (burp) :blink:

Just as a personal anecdote, my wife's office is in the general vicinity and two of her employer's recent Italian interns became total Five Guys junkies while they lived here.  She said they ate there several days per week.

I can picture them returning to the old world with 10 pounds of lard around their waist from all that American fast food.

Well, what a small world it is indeed. Yes, it's the one near Courthouse (I currently work at Courthouse Plaza) and I also commute through Ballston everyday. :smile:

I really wish we had more Mom and Pop places in this area that would stay Mom and Pop, and stay local like in they have in NYC, Philly, and other parts of the country. At least, thanks to a pretty diverse immigrant community, there are still some. Perhaps they need to scale back because of the current economic scene--the price of fuel, ever climbing food costs, and a bad real estate market.

Respectfully, your pear-shaped peer in Northern Virginia. :laugh:

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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The food at my local 5 guys in Edgewater, MD has been pretty good consistently based on only 3 visits I think in a year and a half or something. Decent materials served hot and fresh. A little greasy, but that's the nature of the beast. I wish you could get them cooked a little less.

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I work near, and have only eaten at, what I believe to be the original Five Guys located in Arlington, Virginia.
The original Five Guys location is in Old Town Alexandria - the Arlington location you're close to might be one of the early expansion locations, but it's not the original.
"Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cookbook! Little Red Cookbook!" --Eddie Izzard
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I always thought the Rt 7 location in Arlington was the original...

If Five Guys' high and consistent quality suffers, or lacks, they're in trouble. I've only been to one in Atlanta -- and it was as great as all of the those from the originals. At another in Atlanta (Smyrna), I walked by at dinner time and it was packed.

I can't believe that they put one in Woodstock. That just seems like a very stupid site selection.

OTOH, Five Guys has been getting rave reviews as either the best burger, or at least top 5, in Atlanta and Charleston SC.

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For me 5 guys has always been about the fries. Don't get me wrong, the burger are good, but the fries are amazingly greasy and once loaded with that cajun seasoning, yum.

I have two locations that I would go to, the origional in Arlington/alexandria and the one in chinatown. The place in chinatown did have its bad moments but generally fine. The alexandria is fine. I have gone to other places and have notice that the amount of fries they give you or the quality of food varies a bit (woodbridge isn't bad and one near occaquan is ok).

As far as the fries go, I don't think they are double fried but I still love them and they may be my favorite fries the DC area.

Soup

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It seems that there is such a wide variety of opinions regarding Five Guys. Sort of reminds me of the unique hot dogs at Rutt's Hut in N.J. People either love them or hate them. Personally I love Five Guys. Maybe I'm lucky to have a franchise near me that is exceptional. From what I've heard, they are only allowed to press down on the burger once to keep it from being fried out.

I love the fries. They are among the best I've had. The burgers, while well done, are juicy and flavorful. I think the bun is good as well. I get mine with ketchup, mayo, lettuce, and pickles. The hot dogs are well prepared. Skinless Hebrew Nationals that are split and griddled. Although I love hot dogs, I've only had them twice. I come to Five Guys for the burgers and fries. It's something I crave about once every couple of weeks.

John the hot dog guy

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I can't speak on the original location, but we've got a pretty new franchise location up here in central PA. I like the burgers: I mean, are they the greatest burger in the known universe? Hardly. But for the price point they are tasty. Using two patties doubles up on the Maillardy goodness is a nice touch, they have a good beefiness to them, they aren't too dry considering they are well done, and I like the buns. But the fries? Not so much. In my opinion their fries are crap: even when super-fresh they are soggy, greasy, and bland. And they give you too many of them besides! Yesterday the kid offered to just give me the whole batch he had fried up, even though I only ordered a small (the place was dead, this is summer in a college town). No thanks!! I have a hard time wrapping my head around those of you who like them: are my fry requirements way off-base here? I want crispy outside, creamy inside, a little salty, and a little savory.

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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I think for me (we have on near me in Watchung, NJ now), the fries remind me of "boardwalk fries," the ones my family and I would munch as we wandered the Jersey Shore boardwalk when I was a kid. The burgers are good, but the bun is too big for my tastes. There's also a Cheeburger, Cheeburger near me (Westfield, NJ), and I prefer their burgers because the meat:bun ration is better. And their shakes are good. The fries are so-so.

Joanna G. Hurley

"Civilization means food and literature all round." -Aldous Huxley

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I went to the one in College Point last year, and it was a pretty big 'meh' for me. I just can't see visiting the place again and laying down a ten spot for lunch- I know other places where I can get a much more satisfying overall burger/fries experience for half the price. The draw seems to be the 'lotsa stuff' type burger, but even at that game they are beat (in Queens and Northern NJ, at least) by another chain offering huge burgers with many toppings at a comparable price. And the fries that I had were definitely not up to all of the self-promotion that they do.

It's probably not like this everywhere, but around here they seem to be overpriced for what they're offering.

aka Michael

Chi mangia bene, vive bene!

"...And bring us the finest food you've got, stuffed with the second finest."

"Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos."

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When I lived in Bucks County, one of my favorite outings was a ride up the River Rd. (Rt. 32) from Morrisville to New Hope Stopping at Dilly's Corner at the Stockton bridge. I really loved the Dilly Cheeseburger. Alas, now that I live in Ocean City, trips to Dilly's are few and far between. The substitute I have found is a Five Guys cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and mayo. My wife and I have been to two locations, Somers Point and Rio Grande. We have enjoyed both very much. I find the burgers fresh and juicy. They say their beef is never frozen, perhaps that gives the fresh taste. I do agree about the size of the order of fries. One small order is more than enough for the two of us. Also, I enjoy the free peanuts while we wait for our order.

Chris

Cookbooks are full of stirring passages

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When I lived in Bucks County, one of my favorite outings was a ride up the River Rd. (Rt. 32) from Morrisville to New Hope Stopping at Dilly's Corner at the Stockton bridge.  I really loved the Dilly Cheeseburger.  Alas, now that I live in Ocean City, trips to Dilly's are few and far between.  The substitute I have found is a Five Guys cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and mayo.  My wife and I have been to two locations, Somers Point and Rio Grande.  We have enjoyed both very much.  I find the burgers fresh and juicy.  They say their beef is never frozen, perhaps that gives the fresh taste.  I do agree about the size of the order of fries.  One small order is more than enough for the two of us.  Also, I enjoy the free peanuts while we wait for our order.

Dilly's is to Five Guys as White House Subs (a Jersey shore reference) is to Subway. I hope Ocean City offers eating benefits that at least partially compensate for your self-imposed burger compromise.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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When I lived in Bucks County, one of my favorite outings was a ride up the River Rd. (Rt. 32) from Morrisville to New Hope Stopping at Dilly's Corner at the Stockton bridge.  I really loved the Dilly Cheeseburger.  Alas, now that I live in Ocean City, trips to Dilly's are few and far between.  The substitute I have found is a Five Guys cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and mayo.  My wife and I have been to two locations, Somers Point and Rio Grande.  We have enjoyed both very much.  I find the burgers fresh and juicy.  They say their beef is never frozen, perhaps that gives the fresh taste.  I do agree about the size of the order of fries.  One small order is more than enough for the two of us.  Also, I enjoy the free peanuts while we wait for our order.

Dilly's is to Five Guys as White House Subs (a Jersey shore reference) is to Subway. I hope Ocean City offers eating benefits that at least partially compensate for your self-imposed burger compromise.

I know Five Guys is no where near equal to a Dilly Cheeseburger, but I have yet to find an outstanding burger in OC. One thing we do have is a pleasant drive down Rte.9 to North Wildwood and a stop at Maui's Dog House. We were very happy to find them open this season since the place is for sale. I have the Dressed, my wife has the Soprano and we share an order of Salty Balls, washed down of course with the Stewart's Root Beer.

Chris

Cookbooks are full of stirring passages

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