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Habit Burger jumps into crowded New Jersey market: California-based chain chooses Fair Lawn for first store on East Coast

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Habit Burger chef Adam Baird will lead the efforts in New Jersey.
Habit Burger chef Adam Baird will lead the efforts in New Jersey. - (PHOTO COURTESY OF HABIT BURGER GRILL)

America's best fast food burger —at least according to a Consumer Reports score of 8.1 out of 10 — operates locations in only three states: California, Arizona and Utah.

Today, the Habit Burger Grill raises its national presence to four states with the opening of its first East Coast location at the new luxury Fair Lawn Promenade.

“As we started to think about the East Coast, New Jersey had the business and community characteristics in which to start building East Coast projects,” said Matt Hood, who joined the Habit Burger Grill in 2014 as chief marketing officer.

“We weren't just actively looking in the area for high-traffic freeway access — we always look for areas of the country that have a good mix of families and a sense of community where we can be a part of it.”

The Fair Lawn location hosted five preopening fundraiser events last week to give the local community a taste of the menu. It donated 100 percent of its proceeds to Fair Lawn All Sports, Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, Alpine Learning Group Inc. and the Fair Lawn Police Department's D.A.R.E. Program.

Founded in 1969 in Santa Barbara, Habit Burger Grill operates 96 restaurants nationwide, with the majority in California, five in Utah and six in Arizona.

The 2,677-square-foot Fair Lawn location — with an additional 900 square feet of patio seating — will be the chain's 97th.

Projected to seat several thousand guests a week, Habit Burger will also open an additional location in River Edge later this year.

The chain joins a rather saturated “fast-casual dining” market in the state, particularly when it comes to burgers — such as Bobby Flay's Bobby's Burger Palace, the wine and burger joint Zinburger and Shake Shack, just to name a few.

And let's not forget the not-quite-fast-food chains such as Denver-based Smashburger, which has 18 locations, and the grease lover's delight Five Guys, with a whopping 44 locations.

The Habit Burger Grill does promise charbroiled, 100 percent fresh ground beef with a signature smoky flavor (now there are marketers' words if we've ever heard them). But, let's be fair, it did beat the popular California-based In-N-Out Burger for the top Consumer Reports spot.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming influx of “better burger” joints on every corner in New Jersey, the 2014 Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report only recorded 1.2 percent of industry growth nationwide.

And in contrast to a flat year for the restaurant industry nationwide, fast-casual “better burger” chains continued to generate strong sales growth of 10.4 percent — with the Habit Burger Grill itself growing 35 percent.

So it doesn't seem likely that New Jersey's burger habit will fade away any time soon.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

Burger wars
The Habit Burger Grill has plenty of “better burger” competitors in New Jersey. Here are just a few:

Bobby’s Burger Palace: 5 locations
Zinburger: 3 locations
The Counter: 3 locations
Elevation Burger: 2 locations
Shake Shack: 2 locations
Burger Fi: 2 locations (plans to open 30 more in New Jersey over the next five years)

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry covers manufacturing and retail. Meg joins NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television. She continues to write and market her own spec scripts and screenplays. You can contact her at megf@njbiz.com or @MegFry3 on Twitter.

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