|Jimbo's in Mt. Juliet plans to shake hamburger world|
|Wednesday, March 14, 2012|
By KEN BECK
MT. JULIET--Can Wilson County birth a second restaurant chain, one that might trace in the tracks of the super successful Cracker Barrel?
Well, if Jimbo’s partners Jim Lamberth and John Isaac succeed with their dream, built on the backs of 3½-ounce, 100 percent, fresh-beef patties, the answer is yes, and they would like fries with that.
Their first Jimbo’s, a retro-styled hamburger palace that shares room on the menu with hot dogs, hand-cut French fries and milk shakes, opened in December on North Mt. Juliet Road, across from Mt. Juliet Middle School, and their burger business is booming.
Walk into the diner, which features an all-American theme with red tables, red and white walls, black chairs and photos on the walls of classic cars, Coca-Cola, Popeye the Sailor’s burger-munching pal Wimpy, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, and odds are the first person to greet you from behind the counter will be smiley-faced John Isaac, a former chief operating officer of Service Merchandise Catalog Showroom.
Isaac and Lamberth's choice of Mt. Juliet to birth a potential burger empire was based on numbers and location.
“It fit the budget and demographic criteria. We were looking for real estate, and a friend of mine found the building. We looked at it and decided it would work, and John lives close,” said Lamberth, founder and chairman of Jimbo’s.
“We’re a hybrid of In-N-Out Burger (California‘s first drive-through hamburger stand in 1948) and Five Guys (a burger chain founded in Virginia in 1986). We have milk shakes but not a drive-through at this location,” Lamberth said. “We will not open No. 2 without a drive-through.
“Our plans are to be the franchiser to open a chain. We plan to open two more Jimbo’s long term. This is what we call a footprint. The concept store would be 2,500 to 3,000 square feet in a shopping center end cap with a drive-through. Five Guys does not do a drive-through.”
Isaac, the chief operating officer, described the diner saying, “Jimbo’s is fresh hamburgers with your choice of 20 toppings, fresh hot dogs, fresh grilled chicken sandwiches and milk shakes in a retro atmosphere with ’50s-’60s music and where the emphasis is always on quality products and service.
“We have an open restaurant including the cooking and the grill. Customers are invited to look at our cooking and prep process and watch our team, which excels in cleanliness and quality.
“The emphasis is not on ticket time but quality. It should take 8 to 10 minutes to be served. When you get your hamburger, I want it to be right,” Isaac said.
“Our beef is 81/19 ground chuck. It‘s never frozen. It’s hand-pattied every day,” Lamberth said of their 3.5-ounce patties which receive a special seasoning.
The burgers are 100 percent fresh beef, and the hand-cut fries, made from Idaho potatoes, are never frozen. Burgers here fetch $3.60; hot dogs go for $3. Other items and prices are: fries, $2; grilled chicken sandwich, $4.50; shakes, $2 and $4; and ice cream cones (11 flavors), $1 and $2.
Lamberth, 51, who lives in Portland, Tenn., named the diner after his son, who died in 2000 at age 20 of Burkitt’s lymphoma, an aggressive cancer. (The business will support the American Cancer Society and hopes to be involved soon with Relay for Life.)
“He is a true blue-collar entrepreneur,” Isaac said of his business mate. “He never went to Harvard, never went to Yale, but he has three very successful businesses in painting airplanes (Sunshine Aviation in Russellville, Ky.), buildings pools (Sunshine Pools and Patios) and making signs (An Everlasting Image).
“Jim and I met accidentally. He was looking for someone with some experience in QSR (quick-service restaurants). He came into the Five Guys restaurant in Brentwood where I was area manager. He has great vision. He’s an entrepreneur. He saw an opportunity to expand the Five Guys concept. We respect them, but what they offer is very limited,” said Isaac, 66, a native of Charleston, W.Va., who came to Nashville to work for Service Merchandise where he served as chief operating officer from 1981 to 1986.
“I left there to be a consultant but then become COO of Everything for a Dollar for four years and grew it from 91 to 400 stores. Then I went to Rent-A-Center for four years as chairman and COO. I’ve always been working in retail business. I started when I was 16 picking up shopping carts at a Heck’s Discount Store.
“I love working with customers and a team. I would rather be standing behind a counter talking to customers and serving burgers than taking a vacation,” Isaac said.
However, Lamberth, a man who also knows hard work, does enjoy other diversions such as flying airplanes, Scuba diving and snow skiing.
Three months into their Mt. Juliet business, which employs nine, Lambeth and Isaac said they have already succeeded their early goals.
“We are actively seeking investors and have people interested. If things go as planned, we will have the next Jimbo’s in late summer or early fall. It will be in Middle Tennessee and depends on where we find the real estate once funds are in place,” Lamberth said.
“More than half our business is repeat business,” Isaac claimed. “It’s all by word of mouth.”
And if you’re in the business of selling burgers with up to 20 toppings, well, that’s something you can certainly sink your teeth into.