Friday, March 4, 2011 | 2 p.m.
Lots of people might not have heard of Five Guys until one very important guy, President Barack Obama, dropped in at one of the burgers-and-fries joints near the White House a couple of years ago and left with $80 in food.
With no advertising -- the company relies only on word-of-mouth -- the franchise-driven company opened its first Nevada store today, in a strip mall along Eastern Avenue in Henderson.
Among the investors who partnered to buy the rights to all the Five Guys outlets in Nevada is Ryan Howes, who until about a month ago worked in the heady world of finance for Citigroup.
"I left it for burgers-and-fries," he said today as the room swelled with lunchtime diners. "People I worked with raised their eyebrows because banking is supposed to be a career job where you work your way up the ladder."
But Howes, who lives in Henderson, said he saw more fun and challenges getting in the fast-food business, his wife's anxiety notwithstanding.
"The recession is the best time to open a new business," Howes said. "You can get the best deals on leases, construction costs are down and there's a large labor pool to select from." For the Henderson store, about 50 people were hired, starting at minimum wage and hoping for raises based on feedback from secret shoppers.
Howes and his partners plan to open as many as 15 other outlets in the Las Vegas Valley in the next four to seven years as well as three around Reno. This comes on the heels of Smashburger's arrival in the Las Vegas Valley, which is trying to wrest customers away from the more-established In-N-Out Burger.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries, headquartered in Virginia, started in 1986 and today boasts 761 outlets — well, make that 762 now — around the country. Three other locations are on tap to open soon in the Las Vegas Valley: one at the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas, one at the Las Vegas Outlets, and one in the southwest valley (near the 215 Beltway and Rainbow Boulevard).
Burgers start at $4.99, with such toppings as grilled onions and mushrooms, jalapeno peppers and A-1 sauce. Five Guys also offers hot dogs and a veggie sandwich "but we want to be known as a burgers-and-fries place," said Mike Cummings, another partner.