Restaurant marks 275-unit expansion plan, name change
By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 26, 2012 1:50 AM
Founder and president of Andy's Burgers Shakes & Fries, Kenney Moore, announces the chain will change its name to Hwy 55 and that the company will expand under the Hwy 55 brand to 275 new locations.
MOUNT OLIVE -- Twenty-one years ago, Kenney Moore, armed with just $500 and a desire to control his own destiny, launched Andy's Cheesesteaks and Cheeseburgers with just one store. On Friday, he announced that over the next six to seven years, the company will add nearly 300 stores and 6,000 employees as it expands into Virginia, South Carolina and Florida.
But it won't do so as Andy's. With its expansion also comes a new name and an homage to its hometown Mount Olive roots -- Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes and Fries.
To celebrate the new name, a mural map of Hwy 55, a 192-mile highway stretching from Durham to Oriental, will be painted on the walls of each location. A timeline painted above the map will give patrons a glimpse of Hwy 55's history from 1991 to the present.
"We are going to be taking a road that runs through Mount Olive and kind of sending it across the southeast and all over," Moore said. "To tell you where we going, I am going to kind have to tell you where we came from. It was almost 21 years ago, March of 1991 that I took my first jumping off point, if you will."
Moore said he had just been fired from a job and that he remembers never wanting to have that feeling again -- that he wanted to control his own destiny from that point on.
And so he opened a restaurant, naming it after Moore's son, who was 18 months old at the time. Since then, that company, which later expanded its name to Andy's Burgers, Shakes and Fries, has grown to 100 restaurants across North Carolina.
This year, though, the chain, now known as Hwy 55, will expand outside of North Carolina for the first time when a location opens in Myrtle Beach, S.C. -- the start of a plan to open 275 additional restaurants in the southeast over the next six to seven years.
Of those 275 locations, area development agreements are in the works to open 100 locations in Florida -- the first in Palm City -- 75 locations in western North Carolina, and 50 locations in South Carolina and Virginia each.
Flanked by his family and the people who will be opening the new restaurants, Moore made the announcement during a Friday press conference, complete with cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks, at the company's headquarters on the Old Mount Olive Highway.
But while the restaurant chain's name will change, Moore said its food and service will not -- that people will still be able to order an Andy's cheeseburger in a family-friendly, 1950s-diner setting. He also said the company also will maintain its emphasis on helping youths.
Witnessing the company's growth has been exciting, fun and nerve-wracking with plenty go sleepless nights, he said.
"But we feel like we have created a company that is very, very unique," he said. "We are changing our name from Andy's to Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes and Fries. We have to change our name, but our name doesn't define us. Our people do. Our name doesn't define us. Our products do; our culture does; what we stand for; who we are and what we believe in."
But, Moore said, while the new name doesn't change any of that, he acknowledged a personal disappointment for him and his family.
The name change was sparked by a potential legal battle over the federal trademark for the name "Andy's" that arose as the company prepared to expand into other states. The trademark is owned by a Missouri frozen custard company that was not willing to negotiate.
"There is Route 66," he said. "There is Hwy 55 the road that runs through our community. The more we talked about it the better it sounded and the better it felt."
And, he said, the choice of name reinforces the fact that even though there will likely be some expansion at the headquarters building, the company will remain based in Mount Olive.
Moore said he is unsure how soon the name change will be complete at their existing locations, but probably will take the better part of a year to accomplish.
Moore said his reason to expand during a down economy was simple.
"I will tell you this, in 1991 when I started, the economy was very similar to what it is today," Moore said. "You can look at an economy like this and say OK, we have either got to hold back, or you can say there are probably a whole lot of good deals to be had out there right now because folks want to lease out their spaces, they want to sell their land or sell their buildings. Actually, it is a terrific time to grow."
And, he said, it also means jobs for about 6,000 new employees.
"Some of those jobs will be minimum wage jobs, but that is OK; it is a starting wage," Moore said. "We teach them it is not about money, it is about extending yourself for somebody else. We have very little turnover.
"Hopefully we will teaching 6,000 young people what it takes to be successful when they into their real jobs one day or maybe even be successful as a parent. That is the why of Andy's."
Moore pointed to a wall of photographs of franchise owners and noted that more than 30 of them started out as hourly employees, including longtime Andy's franchisees J.R. Cottle and Chris LaCoe, who are partnering together to develop the 50 upcoming South Carolina Hwy 55 locations. Cottle currently owns three North Carolina restaurants -- in Rockingham, Lumberton and Locust, and LaCoe owns four in Gum Branch, Leland, Shallotte and Surf City.
One of the new franchisee is Moore's boyhood friend, Lonnie Mister, who now lives in Florida.
"(People) are going to continue to dine out, but they have chosen different venues," Mister said. "I think it is a great fit. The thing that attracted me the most to Hwy 55 is the hospitality complement.
"I run into a lot of people in Florida who had an experience with Andy's and they all talk about how great the food is, which it is. They all talk about how clean the stores are and the environment is so nice. But they also all talk about that person who opened the door for them."
Jami Schuster, along with husband, Bob, and partner, Doug King, plan to open stores in the Virginia Beach area.
Mrs. Schuster said she agreed with Mister, but also was impressed with the company's emphasis on helping youths.
"I can't wait to spread that philosophy in Virginia Beach and get them off the streets and out them in a good healthy environment," she said. "They are going to be running us one day and I want to give them a good positive influence."