Burger House Episode 2: The one in Spring

Howdy, folks, and welcome back to HHR. Today, we’re going back to Burger House. No, not the one we went to a few weeks ago, still operating as a Church’s Chicken, but rather a decommissioned location in Spring (1609 Spring Cypress Rd, Spring, TX 77388). This is the second of three Burger Houses we’ll be visiting, and in today’s post, I want to expand a bit on what I feel are some of the issues Burger House encountered and provide comment on the Houston fast food industry in general. For those who don’t remember, or more likely didn’t read, the Burger House story, it’s interesting albeit brief. Father and son Les & Jim Purtee founded Burger House. Les had experience in the restaurant business, purchasing an A&W drive-in location next to the University of Kansas. Jim had been working in mid-management for various fast food chains, including Burger King in Houston. The duo’s concept was simple: small footprint, cheap to run, cheap to franchise drive-thru focused limited menu fast food outlets. In all honesty, the concept sounds very forward-thinking for the time and largely resembles what modern fast-food chains are moving to. With the franchise fees of less than half of what major chains wanted and a menu including Blue Bell Ice Cream, one has to wonder how things can go so wrong. Well, for starters, competition. The idea of a drive-thru-oriented “micro hamburger joint” was not a new one in the 1980s. Rally’s, Red Line Burgers, Krystal, G.W. Jr’s, and many other similar chains all vying for the same market as Burger House, it introduced an element of uncertainty. Investors must decide if this unknown and unproven chain could stand up to the big guys.

When looking at the restaurant’s design, it’s obvious the Purtees knew Houston. Unlike the previously mentioned chains, which featured only exterior ordering and seating, Burger House would offer a small lobby. While I’ve been unable to confirm if you could dine in (it seems unlikely, given customers couldn’t access bathrooms), I do know, at the very least, you could order and wait for your food inside if you weren’t fit for the drive-thru. It’s a nicety that anyone in Houston who has waited outside for food knows very well. It seems that the next mistake came when choosing a real estate partner. While the Purtees seemed to know fast food quite well, it doesn’t seem either was big time into real estate. They chose to go with a relatively unknown developer, Lexford Realty, whose first big project was a rather lackluster set of apartments in Rosenberg. It seems that Lexford’s desire to focus on constructing shopping centers in conjunction with apartments limited their options, especially regarding franchisees, which moves us to the final point. Burger House never seems to have made it to franchising. It is known that towards the end, the Purtees were purchasing land without the help of Lexford, intending to lease it to prospective franchisees. However, it seems that this never got beyond the planning stage and was likely the final nail in the coffin for Burger House. As a whole, Lexford’s shopping centers were never a big hit. With no real anchors and the biggest tenant in any of the three being Mr. Gatti’s, by a wide margin, it seems Lexford was out of its element with this store. In the final post, we’ll take a look at the Rosenberg, the first planned, last built, but never opened Burger House.