Jerry Murrell says it’s time for lunch, and he knows exactly the place to go. The 68-year-old founder and chief executive of the brightest star in the restaurant industry jumps into his blue Ford pickup parked at the company’s headquarters, a redbrick building in an unremarkable office park hard by Interstate 95 in Lorton, Va. He negotiates the back roads of the town – once home to a 10,000-inmate correctional facility – to a strip mall, which, of course, has one of his restaurants, Five Guys Burgers and Fries. He ambles in and, without glancing at the sparse menu he personally designed, orders a burger and some fries.
The staff – a gaggle of twentysomethings – is jumpy, deferentially calling him “Mr. Murrell.” They have reason to be nervous. For the past two days this store, along with a dozen others, has been involved in an intense “fry calibration” class led by Murrell’s third-eldest son, Chad, who has drilled them on the proper mix of starch, water and temperature needed to create the perfect french fry (Murrell believes cooking is about feel; there are no timers in his restaurants). “Fries are much harder than burgers,” says Murrell. “We work day and night on them, all the damn time.”
Such are the problems of being the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the U.S., which has doubled its number of stores since 2009.