From Flint Township to beyond: How Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers got its start

FLINT TWP., MI — It was sometime in 2009 and Brent Skaggs and his wife were looking for a burger.

Something good, something different. Something substantial, but faster than a sports bar. But somewhere they could have a bottle of beer with their burger and fries.

Despite the dozens of nearby eateries, bars and fast food joints, nothing seemed to fit their need.

“We were looking for a great burger, and we couldn’t find one,” Skaggs said.

So they built one.

The Skaggses, who live in the Lansing area, owned a Fazoli’s franchise on Corunna Road, one he admits wasn’t performing as well as he wished. He and some business partners already had success a few years prior by turning a Fazoli’s in Bay City into an upscale tavern, Harvey’s Grill and Bar.

So they took a risk. Despite the economy, despite the ups and downs of opening a new restaurant, despite the fact that many thought “upscale burgers” sounded like an oxymoron, they took a risk.

Now, it’s paying off. Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers will celebrate its two-year anniversary in May. About a month ago, they opened their second location, in Farmington Hills. Now, they’re looking at more markets and working to introduce the business model to the franchise market, allowing local investors in other markets to open their own Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers.

Before opening, though, before moving from a nationally recognized Italian food franchise to a new burger joint, there were questions to answer. What would the menu be, what flavor profile? What would the atmosphere be? Would there be a liquor license?

With Fazolis still operating, Brent Skaggs and his team began quietly working to answer some of these questions. He traveled across the country — Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Tampa Bay — scoping out local burger scenes.

“L.A. has a very vibrant burger scene,” Skaggs said. ” Out there, we got to see a lot of different things guys are doing. Everything from the In-N-Out burger … to upscale concepts like Father’s Office.”

They learned about new techniques and new twists on traditional models. Even though Flint Township is a far cry from L.A. or even Dallas, the team saw concepts that could work here.

“I do think people are ready for different flavor profiles,” Skaggs said. “The mayonnaise-pickles-ketchup-mustard, I think our palates have evolved beyond that.”

Back in Michigan, they started using Harvey’s Grill and Bar as a test kitchen for burgers. Hundreds of possibilities came through the door. From meat cuts to buns to pickles and mustard. Harvey’s chef Tim Zimmerman began experimenting with different flavor profiles and eventually created the whole Freakin’ Unbelievable menu.

“We lovingly refer to him as our mad scientist,” Skaggs said.

It was out of one of these tasting sessions that the unusual name for the business was born.

“We had a name we weren’t really happy with,” Skaggs said. “I think it was Nicklebees or something like that.”

His wife, Sherry, took a big bite of one of the burgers Zimmerman whipped up.

“Very uncharacteristically of her,” Skaggs said, “She said, ‘God, that’s one freaking unbelievable burger.”

When the Flint Township restaurant finally opened in May 2012, the accolades began pouring in. In November 2012, Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers was named one of the “Top New Burger Joints of 2012” in North America by national business publication BurgerBusiness.

It was less than a year later when Skaggs started looking at locations in the Detroit market.

Now, they’re eying more markets, other states, and hoping to find investors to open Freaking Unbelievable Burger franchise locations.

Original article by Blake Thorne for MLive.
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