An appetite for growth
Prokupek's new company 'smashes' into the burger market
By Sara Langen
Sitting in a meeting with franchise partners is routine for David Prokupek '88, CEO and chairman of Smashburger, a rapidly growing, fast-casual burger chain.
But one franchise meeting last fall proved to be anything but routine as Prokupek received a text message with some exciting news: Forbes had named Smashburger the most promising company in America.
"I usually don't look at my BlackBerry in a meeting," Prokupek remembers. "And then, [I] was almost [in] disbelief — the significance of it took a while to settle in. For the team, it's been a really nice accolade."
The only restaurant to make Forbes' list of 100 rising-star companies, Smashburger was lauded for its expanding number of locations and $54 million in annual revenues. In four short years, the Denver-based company has exploded, with 150 restaurants in 25 states and 450 more franchise agreements for future locations, including Kuwait, Canada and Central America.
The idea for Smashburger was born out of Consumer Capital Partners (CCP), a company that Prokupek helped found and now oversees as managing partner and chief investment officer. A private investment and concept development firm, CCP specializes in consumer-centric, multi-unit businesses in the restaurant, beverage, leisure and personal care industries.
CCP zeroed in on the burger business after learning that "people were dissatisfied with their choices in burgers," Prokupek shares. "So while America was eating a lot of them, they weren't that happy with the ones they were eating, with three or four big companies dominating the marketplace. We had an idea that there would be a way to do burgers better and put them back into people's lives."
So CCP invested $15 million to create Smashburger, a company that has found clever ways to differentiate itself from fast-food giants such as McDonald's and Burger King.
For one, Smashburger serves a high-quality burger — one made with 100 percent fresh Angus beef, smashed onto a buttered flat grill and seared into a juicy patty. It offers customers a wide range of choices on everything from bun types to toppings to sauces. It serves something-for-everyone side dishes, including fried chilies, a variety of french fries, Häagen-Dazs shakes and other dishes made with local ingredients. It even offers beer and wine. And unlike some of its competitors, Smashburger puts particular emphasis on excellent customer service.
"For eight to 10 bucks, you get what I say is a $20 experience," says Prokupek, who has spent more than 20 years as a financial adviser to many leading consumer brands, retailers and restaurant concepts and has managed more than $100 billion in assets for clients and firms.
This business formula, coupled with word-of-mouth marketing, is helping to take Smashburger to the top of the market.
"We're on a path to creating a number-one brand around the world," Prokupek says. "The way Starbucks is in coffee, I want to be that in burgers."