My mom said to me, "If you don't study, you'll be flipping burgers." That eventually gave me the idea for Five Guys--along with this little hamburger place in northern Michigan where I grew up. What fascinated me was almost everyone ate the owner's burgers--even though he had a cat he'd pet while flipping them.
People called them fur burgers but still ate them, because they were good! So when my eldest sons were not interested in going to college, I suggested they open a burger joint. This was 1986. We opened in Arlington, Virginia--I was a financial planner at the time--and focused on making the best burger possible.
We read French cookbooks and figured out how to make the perfect French fry. Word started to spread, and then the local paper did a story on us. We knew we made it. To this day, we use the best ingredients, so we raise prices to reflect food costs.
I once suggested using one tomato slice instead of two. That was the devil talking. My sons staged a revolt. We kept using two slices and raised the price. If we started slipping then, we would not be here now. We finally decided to franchise in 2003, but only if folks agreed to our quality control.
The people we choose understand our story. It has to be about the quality of the food, or it won't work. It's a simple story: Sell good burgers, and people will pay for them. Now all five sons work at the company, and we have 1,000 locations nationwide.
As told to Inc. contibuting writer, Liz Welch.