Friends & Brgrs at the top of the food chain
This growing family of Finnish burger restaurants is taking its fresh approach to fast casual dining to the global market.
It’s 3 pm on a Friday afternoon. The dining area is packed with the bubbling chatter of teenagers and twentysomethings. A young woman takes orders from behind a small counter against one wall, dispensing small talk to customers along with their receipts. To her right, a glass-fronted kitchen houses a team of youngsters preparing burgers and fries in full view of those eager to feast on them.
Clean, friendly, flavoursome and transparent – welcome to Friends & Brgrs.
The Finnish culinary scene has enjoyed an unprecedented renaissance in recent years. Gone are the days of basic flavours and tired recipes. In their place resides a local restaurant scene infused with experiences more suited to global taste buds.
“We can really see a strong trend when it comes to preparing food, with transparency and quality,” observes Kaj Fagerholm, co-founder and CFO of Friends & Brgrs. “People want to know what they eat, see it when it’s being prepared and that local ingredients are being used as much as possible.”
Taking inspiration from similar establishments in the US, Friends & Brgrs is thus giving people what they want, by infusing fast food with fresh flavours.
“We were the first company to bring ‘fast casual’ to Finland,” he clarifies. “Actually, we prefer to call ourselves ‘fresh casual’. We make everything in-house from fresh ingredients.”
In addition to the grinding of meat, forming of patties and baking of buns on site, sauces and mayonnaise are prepared from scratch at Friends & Brgrs.
This detailed approach also ensures that even the cooking methods are slightly more labour intensive than the average burger joint.
“Our fries are made from fresh potatoes,” Fagerholm continues. “We do this according to the triple-cooked method, which we have developed a bit to handle the huge volumes. Usually this method is used in fine dining restaurants, in small amounts.”
Much in the same way that a variety of ingredients come together to make up the perfect burger, the six founders of the company all hail from different industries, including digital marketing, logistics and meat-handling. What they do have in common, however, is a love of good food and shared roots in the Finnish town of Pietarsaari.
It was here that the pioneering site of Friends & Brgrs was established in 2014. A few months later the burger trail took them south to the capital and restaurants have been popping up gradually ever since.
Last year saw the sextet heading abroad for the first time, with Friends & Brgrs establishing itself in Copenhagen’s busy pedestrian mall, Strøget. The resultant word-of-mouth has been so positive that additional eateries overseas are on the cards.
“We are now looking at locations in Germany and England,” Fagerholm outlines. “Our goal is to open two-to-three restaurants a year over the next few years.”
In order to fund this growth, the company is putting its money where mouths are, after closing a crowdfunding share subscription with Invesdor to the tune of almost one million euros (see video below).
Fagerholm leans back and surveys the bustling Helsinki restaurant around him. Such was the strength of the original business idea that he admits to being unsurprised by the company’s success so far. However, the one thing that has raised an eyebrow is the fact that young women make up Friends & Brgrs’ main customer group. In contract to the male-focused, ‘bigger is better’ approach typically found in this sector, a remarkable share of Friends & Brgrs customers are female.
With sales of 6.1 million euros last year, this demographic is certainly willing to pay a little bit extra for fresh flavours, served with genuine friendliness.
“We educate our staff a lot and try to bring international way of providing service,” Fagerholm states. “We want people to feel special when they come here.”
Among the company’s values hanging on the kitchen wall is a constant reminder of this approach: “We serve friends, not customers.”
Listening to Fagerholm’s enthusiasm, one can’t help but hear echoes of Ray Kroc, the man who transformed McDonald’s from a two-man enterprise into one of the most recognised symbols of globalisation. Whilst Fagerholm doesn’t exhibit any of Kroc’s ruthlessness, nor his rampant desire to franchise, what they do share in common is a canny ability of knowing what people want.
This is exactly what Friends & Brgrs has on the menu in future.
Text: James O’Sullivan