The Great American Burger: Well Done as published in Lake Granbury Living magazine, Summer 2015 Issue By Andra Mayberry – Photography by Oh Snap! Photography
Most locals know about Grumps – great burgers, great atmosphere and even better parking – and don’t forget the witty quips on the marquee. The Grumps formula has simply been to perfect and serve up an American staple, the burger, and present it in a fun and laid-back atmosphere — period. There are no frills at Grumps; no complications. The only thing that has really changed since the first store was established in 2002 is the addition of three other locations in Stephenville, Cleburne and Burleson. When you walk into the Granbury location, you may notice the t-shirts on the wall and also the ceiling. You may notice the autographed 8” by 10”s on the wall of actors or singers or stunt pilots. But the license plate-lined walls, rustic back patio, old warehouse-looking concrete floors and the wood paneling are only aesthetics. Look beyond all that to the faces who oversee, prepare and deliver all those red trays and baskets.
What some folks don’t know about this burger mecca, this culinary wonder, this American institution, is the philosophy of its leadership. From the top of the corporate chain, all the way down to the entry-level service employee, you’ll find a surprising structure. Co-conspirator, Collier Allbright explains, “The guys who do the day-to-day operation stuff are the heroes, the day-to-day cooks and guest service ladies, those are the people who keep y’all coming back. All we do up here, (at corporate HQ) is help and support them. We are like an inverted org chart where our employees sit at the top and then we are here (at the bottom) to support the employees.” With a leadership philosophy like that, it’s no wonder the same faces greet us year after year. “Once we get them (employees), we tend to not lose them for a while. We have a very simple company culture. It’s to find the right people and plug them in,” Collier explains. Some Grumps employees are so good, they are plucked away by other businesses. While this might aggravate some, it’s actually a compliment to the Grumps business model. So what exactly is going on behind those walls? What kind of people make up the Grumps family? “Grumps is a collective thought process and we as a leadership team try to impress that upon our people,” Collier says. “We’ve been fortunate to have a group of long-term people we’ve promoted from within who understand our culture which is based around a real simple concept — food, service and atmosphere. We try to be good in those categories every time a person shows up.” While the average customer might see a whirlwind of activity, behind the scenes it’s a well-oiled machine. Most Grumps employees are under age 30. They vary from local kid-next-door to college graduate. But Grumps management knows it’s more than cook a burger and ship it out. In terms of leadership, “It’s kind of what we’re charged with, especially with younger people. We tell them what the expectations are and hold them accountable. And young people these days crave discipline and structure. We’ve found that most respond very well to that. They want the challenge and the responsibility and they just haven’t been given it. If we find the right young people in those positions we afford them the opportunity to move up within our company. That’s how we built our culture,” Collier explains.
THE EARLY YEARS
When asked how Grumps was born, Collier always gives his standard answer and subsequent laugh. “Grumps was born at a very early age,” he quips. Loosely named after his grandad, Gramps, the name seemed fitting for a burger joint. It was the brainchild of a man who suffered through a long-enough stint in corporate America. So why a burger joint for a guy who had zero experience in the restaurant business? “I worked for two Fortune 500 companies, back to back — consumer electronics and consumer finance — and hated it. Hated it!” Collier says. Call it what you will, but we all have it in us to either succumb to the stress or make a change and that’s just what happened. Life is better spent chasing your dreams. Collier spent years going to his choice hangouts in and around his hometown of Fort Worth and observed what seemed to work and what didn’t work. Today he uses his iPhone, but years ago he would jot down notes on restaurant napkins when he was out and about and then collect them all at home in a wastebasket. He used these notes to build his big Grumps scheme. “I would add in these pieces of what I liked and what I thought would translate well. So I borrowed concepts from some of my favorite spots and came up with an idea,” he explains. “I’d never been in the restaurant business before but my thought was, ‘I work all the time anyway. I don’t have any hobbies so where would that strength best translate?’ And I thought, ‘Let’s open a restaurant!’ I didn’t even know what we were gonna cook. I just thought, let’s come up with a name.” Enter, Grumps Burgers.
But this story isn’t about how everything just fell into place. This is about the American Dream which always requires a little bit of struggle. Initially, Collier and his crew had a plan and a contract on a building in Weatherford. But at the last minute, they decided to switch gears and come to Granbury, where the first restaurant still is today on East Highway 377. After several years of note taking, soul searching and head scratching, the plan was ready to execute. So Collier explains, “When we went to the banker he said, ‘You have no experience. This is a horrible spot because there’s no left exit (onto 377). We’re not going to loan you any money.’ So I put a second mortgage on my home, cashed in everything I had and just went for it. There was no safety net.” Ask anyone who was involved in that first half year of business and they will tell you it was a harrowing experience. “The first six or seven months were horrible. We didn’t know what we were doing,” Collier says. There were a few trial runs with close family and friends and even they told him he was crazy. In fact, the now-famous peanut bucket was added at this time because it took the inexperienced crew so long to get tickets turned over. Collier knew he had to get something for people to be occupied with or there would be a revolt. What we now see is the formation of a team effort. It takes a lot of heads and hearts committed to the success of this place. What Grumps customers can expect is attention to food presentation, price point and a hot and tasty burger. You can also expect a friendly wait staff who greets you when you come in and takes care of you after you’re seated but they won’t be overbearing. When it comes to the atmosphere, Collier says there is an expectation for the restaurant to be “clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.”
GRUMPS AND TIP-A-COP
Grumps has hosted the Tip-A-Cop event in Granbury since 2009. Grumps proudly supports veterans and law enforcement and is honored to give back to those brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day. “I certainly have a deep level of respect for those who serve. Anyone who’s got the guts to walk up to a car and knock on a window at 10:30 at night and not know what’s on the other side of that window, has my respect,” Collier says. There also have been several other fundraisers to support local law enforcement, including one for the family of slain Hood County Sheriff’s Deputy, Sgt. Lance McLean, who was killed in the line of duty on June 29, 2013. During that fundraiser a cowboy hat belonging to Sheriff Roger Deeds was auctioned off for $1,500. Collier feels fortunate to operate Grumps in Granbury where he says, “The level of courtesy afforded to law enforcement is better than it is in towns like Fort Worth. We just try to do our part here. It’s important to me to show those folks who go out there and put it on the line every day how much we appreciate them. We do it because those men and women do something the average person can’t. We depend on them for our safety and I appreciate it. Our military does the same thing. Their job is so immensely difficult — emotionally, spiritually — I could not do it. I just respect the heck out of those folks who do it and I am very appreciative, because we need people like that.”
Loyalty means a great deal to the Grumps family. There are employees working at Grumps who have been there since Day One. Collier says, “Cowboy John, who’s our cook in Granbury has been with me since the beginning. I’ve got people with multiple years. My managers are all five-plus.” He does realize having long-standing employees is an anomaly in this industry — especially in Granbury where there seems to be a wait staff revolving door.
Collier smiles and says, “You know what’s cool and what I’m really proud of? We’ve had people who have left and then come back. Yeah, they move on to greener pastures but then they’ve missed what we have. That speaks volumes for the instore management, not us (the corporate administration.)” The last 13 years have been a testament to the formula his team put in place back in 2002. “It’s been quite a challenge. I’ve been fortunate enough that my business partner (Todd) worked in the manufacturing field and was actually one of my (corporate America) customers. I loved the way he ran operations so I went to him and said, ‘I’ve got a crazy idea. I’m gonna open a hamburger joint and I want you to partner with me on it.’ And he said, ‘Okay!’ I was expecting laughter and hysteria, but he still committed,” Collier adds. Good leaders have vision, ask Collier and he will tell you, “There’s a lot of having it in your head. Translating it to actual execution is tough. When we came up with what we were gonna cook, I said ‘we are gonna do hamburgers.’ Keep it simple. I thought, ‘Anyone can make a hamburger.’ I was very wrong on that assumption. The first year was very bumpy and we still have challenges we face every day but with Todd handling the operational piece from the get go, he has been instrumental with its success,” Collier says. He refuses to take credit for any good fortune at Grumps. Collier consistently praises who he has brought to the table and shifts the focus to them. “Anything we can do to support the people that make it work is what we’re all about. I think that translates. I think our employees know we care. I think that’s a big deal,” he adds. So the next time you go to a chain restaurant, see if you can feel the same mojo you’d feel at Grumps.