No coach in football history can compete with Don Shula’s legendary record of 347 career wins. But the retired Dolphins coach and his family have since entered the game of the fast-and-casual gourmet burger industry, where the battle for market share is as fierce as the NFL playoffs.
Just opened in Delray Beach is Shula Burger, the fifth of the Shula family’s gourmet burger eateries. It joins 34 other Shula restaurants scattered across the United States from Times Square to Arizona.
Shula’s drive into the restaurant business started with a favor. A family friend asked the 1972 “Perfect Season’’ legend to lend his name to a Miami Lakes golf resort’s struggling restaurant. After two years of reluctancy, Shula licensed his name to the restaurant in 1989. Business quadrupled as a result. Then, in 1992, the family licensed their name to the hotel, now known as Shula’s Hotel & Golf Club.
Success nudged the family into the dining business. In 1994, the Shulas founded their own restaurant company: Shula’s Steak Houses, LLLP. The company’s big players all are family members. Dave Shula, Don Shula’s eldest son, is the president; Carrie LaNoce, Shula’s stepdaughter and the first independent Shula Burger franchise owner, works in marketing and management; Mary Ann Shula, Don’s wife, is the CEO of the company; Don Shula is the proprietor.
They now own 14 Shula’s Steak Houses, four Shula’s Bar and Grills, one Shula’s On the Beach, two Shula’s Steak 2s and eight Shula’s 347 Grills. The family’s latest restaurant venture, Shula Burger, comes at a time when the market is packed with players and the pressure on beef suppliers is high.
Last summer’s drought devastated Midwestern corn fields. With feed in short supply, farmers cut back on the size of their herds. “The overall herd is the lowest its been in 60 years,” said Ray Farmer, executive chef with Halperns, the Atlanta-based company that cuts and distributes meat to the Shula restaurants.
Lower production pushed up prices for consumers, which squeezed sales. Burgers sold at restaurants peaked at 9.3 billion in 2010, but that figure has been trending downward for the past three years. In April, sales trickled in at 8.6 billion, according to Bonnie Riggs, industry analyst with consumer research firm NPD.
During the uncertain economy, diners opted out of upscale and midscale restaurants and turned to fast-casual to “trade down from full service and trade up from fast food,” Riggs said. In the post-recession phase, many of the fast casual eateries have expanded further because investors and entrepreneurs are trying to capitalize on the continued growth opportunity, she said.
“Consumers are still highly satisfied with fast-casual burgers,” Riggs said. “The quality is much better than fast food, the ingredients are fresh, and even though diners are paying more, it’s still affordable compared to full service.”
But South Floridians have plenty of options. Among them are two locations of Rok:Brgr, three New York-based Shake Shacks, four Elevation Burger joints and Sonic Drive-In locations in both Fort Lauderdale and Miami Gardens. This market flood poses a risk for new players like Shula Burger, Riggs said.