WESTFORD -- Five Guys Burgers and Fries doesn't consider itself fast food -- and that has nothing to do with the lines that spill out the door when a new location opens.
The Virginia-based burger joint has a new home in Westford's Cornerstone Square development, where it opened its doors on Monday to a line of 30 people waiting outside at 11 a.m. That day, the restaurant went through 900 burgers, and by Wednesday afternoon it had served about 2,000 customers in its first two and a half business days, according to Marc Magerman, the CEO of Massachusetts Burger Enterprises.
"It's kind of a phenomenon when a new one opens up," said Magerman, whose company manages nine Five Guys franchises in Massachusetts. "Usually it settles down after a couple of weeks, but you never know what to expect."
More than anything else, Five Guys prides itself on the freshness and high quality of its food. Its burgers are vacuum-packed and never frozen (in fact, the restaurant doesn't even have a freezer) and the other ingredients are delivered three times a week to guarantee freshness. The potatoes, stored in 50-pound bags around the red-and-white, checkerboard-walled dining area, are cut hours before they are served and aren't fried until someone orders them.
The restaurant hired 44 people to start, with about 15 working in the open kitchen behind the counter at peak hours during the opening weeks. Five Guys' standard is that the food should be in the customer's mouth eight minutes after he or she orders it. Magerman admitted that preparation time is a little longer during this week's opening rush, but he said that people don't mind waiting for a fresh, highly customizable (18 toppings -- all free) burger, especially in comparison to what they could get at a true "fast-food" place.
"To me, fast food means that you can drive up and take your food. We could never have a drive-thru here, because we want to make everything to-order," said Magerman. "If we're surrounded by McDonald's and Burger King, we're happy about that because we think we compete favorably to them."
Five Guys' reputation for high-end, quick-service food preceded its arrival in Westford. Littleton natives Ian Howard, Ryan Sullivan and Ryder Whitcomb had been to the Framingham location previously, so they were excited to see that one opened at Cornerstone Square.
"The service is pretty quick," said Howard, 17. "But you can tell by the taste that they're making everything fresh right in front of you."
"It's kind of like fast food, except it doesn't make you feel bad after you eat it," said Sullivan, 17. Whitcomb noted that they had seen six of their other friends go to the restaurant since it opened.
It's this type of appeal that allowed the chain to explode in popularity within the last decade. Five Guys was founded in Arlington County, Va., in 1986 by Jerry Murrell and his four sons. In 2003, Five Guys started franchising, rapidly expanding all over the country in a matter of months; the Westford franchise is the 1,087th location. Massachusetts Burger Enterprises formed in 2007 and secured a contract for 20 locations, of which nine have opened so far. Magerman, a marketing executive who had never even heard of Five Guys at the time, had to learn the business on the fly.
"We weren't restaurant people at the start," said Magerman. "But we figured it out pretty quick."
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.