Where there once was a Fatburger in Brea Downtown now sits a Bruxie, a waffle sandwich restaurant. The burger joint that brands itself as uniquely from Los Angeles has been disappearing from the Orange County scene since 2011.
But in celebration of its 60th anniversary this year and growing from 40 units to 125—a bulk of the growth coming in the last couple of years—Fatburger has retooled its brand and shipped the restaurant’s Southern California imagery overseas.
“We are always looking to open new Fatburgers in any market available to franchise,” vice president of marketing Thayer Wiederhorn said about re-opening up restaurants in Orange County. “A new Fatburger will open back up in Orange County as soon as we are approached by a franchisee who would like to develop the area.”
Lovie Yancey and Charles Simpson founded Mr. Fatburger in 1947 and soon dropped the “Mr.” from its name in 1952. Realizing an opportunity to expand, the restaurant began to offer franchises by 1981. Yancey died in early 2008.
Fatburger attracted local celebrities early on and appeared in the sitcom Sanford and Son and the film The Fast and the Furious. The iconic name Fatburger soon began to gain steam with entertainers such as Ray Charles and Redd Foxx, who would custom order their burgers, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Wiederhorn bought the burger stand for $7 million in 2003. At that time, he was the CEO and chairman of the board for Fog Cutter Capital Group.
However, the company struggled and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, and later had to sell locations in California and Nevada.
The Brea, Irvine and Newport Beach locations were recent Orange County victims of closure.
“The situation in Orange County (Fashion Island) was unique in that the landlord at that particular location would not renew our lease as a tenant, thus the location was forced to close,” said Thayer Wiederhorn, son of Andrew Wiederhorn.
Fatburger has since expanded its restaurants globally. With burger stands in China, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the restaurant chain has further plans to grow in the United Kingdom, Qatar, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Belarus, the Philippines and Singapore, according to Orange County Register reports.
Although there are records that Fatburger has moved out of the red in its accounting, some people do not think expanding the brand globally will benefit the company in the long run if it does not have a following here in the United States.
Companies generally need to do well locally to expand overseas because the cost associated with expanding globally is enormous, said Cal State Fullerton Marketing Professor Christopher Anicich.
He believes they are going to have a hard time overseas because “Going global, they’re going to be high priced compared to McDonald’s or Burger King or other (fast food chains) that have gone global,” Anicich said.
Anicich said he does not understand how a company could struggle locally while expanding its brand globally. But he does see why they have had a hard time in Orange County.
“In-N-Out owns Orange County. I don’t think anybody can beat In- N-Out,” Anicich said. “They (Fatburger and Five Guys) are so much more expensive than In-N-Out.”
Two Fatburger locations still stand in Orange County, resisting the closures that others have felt from the recent recession and Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed by Fatburger. They are located in Aliso Viejo and Buena Park.
Karina Velasquez, an international business major at CSUF, said she last ate at a Fatburger when she was about eight years old at a Buena Park location by Knott’s Berry Farm.
Velasquez said Fatburgers are located in areas around Southern California, such as the location next to Knott’s Berry Farm, where people internationally are seeing it. This exposure can help the company globally when selling its brand.
But elsewhere throughout Southern California, Fatburger is going to have a hard time competing against In-N-Out.
“Just because it’s so convenient, In-N-Out is everywhere, you’d probably just go to In-N-Out,” Velasquez said. “You’d see one more often than you’d see a Fatburger.”