By Becky Billingsley
Monday, May 21, 2012, Myrtle Beach - Chris LaCoe and J.R. Cottle were in Myrtle Beach on Friday preparing for today's opening of the first South Carolina location of Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries.
The partners own the master franchise for 50 South Carolina units of the franchise. Some will be company stores, but this first Myrtle Beach unit is owned by franchisee Bob Twigg.
Twigg was not at the restaurant in the Tanger Outlet off U.S. 501 in Myrtle Beach on Friday, but LaCoe and Cottle said Twigg is a retired engineer who built bridges and has never before owned a restaurant. He approached Hwy 55 founder Kenny Moore about opening a Myrtle Beach location and passed the company's franchisee interview process. After a week of training at the company headquarters in Mt. Olive, N.C., and much hands-on support from LaCoe and Cottle, today marks the launch of Twigg's restaurateur career.
Highway 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries was originally known as Andy's Burgers Shakes and Fries, which was founded in 1991 in Goldsboro, N.C., by Kenny Moore. He started the business with $500, and grew it to "...systemwide sales of approximately $50 million in 2010," according to a company press release.
Andy's had 100 locations mostly in the eastern part of North Carolina, and as plans were being made to expand outside the state, a potential legal problem over the federally trademarked "Andy's" name arose. To avoid a legal battle, the decision was made to rebrand the chain to Highway 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries, which refers to a North Carolina highway spanning 192 miles between Durham and Oriental.
Between them, LaCoe and Cottle already own 80 Hwy 55 restaurants. They're opening a company-owned unit in about four months in Lexington, then two franchised locations are scheduled to open in Mt. Pleasant. They're also looking for a location in North Myrtle Beach near Wal-Mart that will hopefully open, they said, by the end of 2012.
But today all attention is focused on the burger shop at Tanger Outlets off U.S. 501 in the Carolina Forest area of Myrtle Beach. It is on the extreme east side of the shopping center beside Waccamaw Pines Drive.
Approximately 35 people were hired to work at Hwy 55, and the partners said they're mostly 16- to 18-year-olds.
"We like young employees who've never had a job before, so we can train them," LaCoe said. "The manager here has worked for J.R. We look for great personalities, good character, smiling faces, people who want to work, not just have a job...We don't let employees stand around and lean on the counter. We train them that if people are coming to spend money with you, they have to understand they work hard for that money, so they have to work hard at what they do with a smile on their face. They have to treat customers the way they would want to be treated."
The strict friendliness and industrious employee policy started when founder Kenny Moore opened his first mall location in Goldsboro, LaCoe said. Moore saw potential customers walking by his restaurant to patronize other eating establishments, so he decided to start standing near the entrance and talking to people as they walked by. Eventually his friendliness paid off in business, and Moore realized a little caring goes a long way in ensuring customer loyalty.
As for the food, the burgers are made with fresh (never frozen) 80/20 chuck. The house specialty is the Andy's Cheeseburger with melted American cheese on top, with slaw, onions, mustard and chili under the meat. The Andy's Original Special with an Andy's Cheeseburger, fries and a drink is $6.19.
LaCoe and Cottle said they've also heard much praise for their $6 Cheesesteak.
Instead of ice cream in their sundaes, shakes, malts, floats and mix-in treats (similar to Dairy Queen's Blizzard), Hwy 55 uses frozen custard. The custard has 90 percent less air whipped into it than most ice creams, resulting in a thick and slick mouth-feel and rich condensed flavor.
Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries has a tentative operating schedule of 1l a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. It's at 4628 Factory Stores Blvd., Suite B210, and the number is (843) 236-0085.