A lot of companies tout their commitment to using locally sourced products to strengthen their communities, but few do it with the fervor of Eureka Restaurant Group. Founded in July 2009 during the worst economic crisis in 80 years, the Hawthorne, California–based company features an all-American menu across its food and drinks offerings, focusing on upscale burgers, craft beer and domestic whiskies. Eureka’s patriotism has helped its restaurants stand out in the crowded “better burger” segment. Along with the company’s consistently low prices—another result of its recession-era start—this stance has helped the restaurants thrive in urban markets.
“We developed the concept in 2009 during the recession, and the greatest way to pull out of a downturn is to buy and spend within your country,” says Paul Frederick, one of Eureka’s cofounders and managing partners. “That became our ethos—to source and procure from inside the United States and our own communities.”
This approach presents challenges, especially at the bar, but Eureka has made it work well. Since its start with one restaurant seven years ago, the company has grown to 14 units and will reach 20 by the end of this year. Annual revenues top $40 million, with 35 percent of earnings coming from beverage alcohol, led overwhelmingly by beer. In the drinks department, Eureka seeks small, niche players.
“Our goal is to provide quality American products at a conscious value,” says Trevor Tyler, Eureka’s corporate beverage director. “A lot of our loyal following comes from this commitment. The bar program is a huge component of our business. You can go to a lot of restaurants and get great food, great cocktails or great beer. But it’s rare to find one restaurant that has all three, and that’s what really sets us apart.
The executive team for Eureka Restaurant Group includes three cofounders: Frederick, Justin Nedelman and Robert Suzuki. The partners built the concept with the intent of expanding it, but they started slowly. During its third year in business, Eureka began growing by three to five units annually, and this year the company is committed to launching six new locations. The bulk of Eureka’s operations are in its home state of California, though the company expanded into Seattle in 2013 and Dallas in 2014. One of this year’s additions will be in Austin, Texas.
Eureka seeks markets tied to universities and technology companies. “We love those types of cities and refer to them as discovery markets,” Frederick explains. “They’re innovative, aspiring, creative and unique. We’re always looking for perfect restaurant locations in cool, architectural buildings or distinct lifestyle centers in urban areas.” Frederick points to Texas, Washington, Colorado and Arizona as key states going forward, and within the next couple years, he expects the company to make moves into the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard. Eureka executives plan to expand the concept to 40 restaurants by 2020.
Eureka’s restaurant interiors also aim for a creative vibe. The venues have a distinct ambiance due to their alliance with local artists, live musicians and events like the annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival. The spaces mix old and new, featuring reclaimed wood, rustic metal and antique materials in a modern setting with contemporary lighting and seating. Most restaurants have indoor and outdoor spaces with patios that include water and fire elements. “We put our restaurants in urban markets with existing foot traffic,” Frederick says. “We like that downtown feel.”
This strategy has helped Eureka build a strong base of regular local consumers. The company averages 55,000 guest visits a week, and Frederick says many of those are regular customers. Because of this repeat business, the company has shifted from its original focus, which emphasized burgers and craft beer, toward a more diverse menu that includes salads and other entrées, as well as cocktails and whiskies. The venues average 140 seats and provide full service with a focus on hospitality. Nothing on the menu costs more than $20.
“We offer elevated service, high-quality products and a unique bar program—all at an approachable price,” Frederick says. “We use a team service system so that anyone can take your order and deliver your drinks and food. It’s fast-paced, but someone is always there to help. We’ve earned the trust of our guests by selecting the best products and the best values. We’re a fun and soulful place.”
Burgers And Beer
The company’s first restaurant, Eureka Burger, spanned 200 square feet and served only beer and wine at the bar. The concept has evolved since those early days, removing “burger” from its name and emphasizing diverse American fare and a varied cocktail menu, with some spaces totaling upwards of 4,000 square feet. The company touts the definition of “eureka,” which means to express delight upon finding or discovering something—in this case, high-quality food, craft beer and artisanal spirits. Burgers now comprise 22 percent of total sales and menus are only two pages, listing a maximum of 44 items.
Eureka features 10 specialty burgers ($9.50 to $16.50), including The Original, topped with lettuce, pickles, red onion, tomato and the concept’s signature mayonnaise-based sauce. The menu also lists adventurous offerings, such as the Catalina Bison Burger, topped with jalapeño jam, smoked mozzarella, peppers and onions, and the Bone Marrow Burger, served with bone marrow porcini butter, charbroiled onion, mustard aioli and roasted tomato. Beyond burgers, Eureka offers entrées like pan-seared salmon, short rib ragu, chicken saltimbocca and flat iron steak ($11 to $20), alongside such appetizers as lollipop corn dogs, chicken wings, mac and cheese alfredo, steamed clams and osso buco riblets ($5 to $15).
Craft beer is the backbone of Eureka’s beverage program, making up 70 percent of total drinks sales. The restaurants have 30 to 40 draft handles and offer exclusively small-label brews ($5 to $7 a pour; $9 to $10 a flight of four 5-ounce pours). Some locations also have 10 to 15 bottled beers. “Our goal is to support local businesses throughout the United States,” Tyler says. “Draft beer is our main focus, and the bottles we carry are beers that we can cellar and that get better with age.” He adds that California IPAs are doing well at Eureka restaurants and notes that barrel-aged brews and wild sour ales are also gaining popularity.
Eureka’s beer menus vary by location based on local brewers and availability, but Tyler says offerings by Firestone Walker, Ballast Point, Hangar 24 and Jester King routinely do well. Because of the company’s commitment to craft beer, the restaurants often partner with local breweries for collaboration projects. Eureka is working with Bottle Logic Brewing in Anaheim, California, on an imperial stout called Fundamental Observation that’s aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels and enhanced with vanilla beans. It will be released in the restaurants in July and is one of several similar projects underway. “We’re committed to making sure our restaurants have the newest and rarest beers on tap,” Tyler says.
Following craft beer, Eureka’s drinks passion is American whiskies. The restaurants list roughly 35 labels on the menu and often have additional special offerings available behind the bar ($8 to $18 a 2-ounce pour; $22 to $27 a flight of four 1-ounce pours). Tyler points to such brands as Pappy Van Winkle, Four Roses Bourbon and Buffalo Trace as top performers, and he says specialty items like Rittenhouse rye and Corsair Triple Smoke American Malt also do well. These boutique whiskies are joined by an array of premium spirits, including Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits’ Fugu vodka, Anchor Distilling Co.’s Junípero gin, Corsair Spiced rum and El Charro Silver Tequila—the only product on Eureka’s entire menu that’s not made in America.
“A lot of our consumers are drinking whiskey neat,” Tyler explains. “Our bartenders are highly trained to give suggestions and we incorporate whiskies into cocktails, too. We focus on small-batch, craft spirits from throughout the United States.” Frederick adds that the average allocation per whiskey label for the brands in his restaurants is fewer than 20,000 bottles a year. Spirits and cocktails comprise 25 percent of Eureka’s overall beverage sales.
With its founding in California, Eureka highlights Golden State wineries, though it also features Pacific Northwest labels at its Seattle restaurant. The venues offer roughly 16 wines from smaller producers ($7 to $12 a glass; $22 to $85 a 750-ml. bottle), and the company buys directly from many of its winery partners to keep costs low. Wines range from Seghesio Pinot Grigio and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay to Frog’s Leap Zinfandel and Clayhouse Cabernet Sauvignon.
Eureka put a renewed emphasis on cocktails last year, revamping its specialty drinks menu and adding several items to its existing list. The restaurants now boast a varied selection of classic cocktails and contemporary creations ($9 to $13), and they offer a weekly special Farmer’s Market drink that highlights fresh seasonal produce. “We’re bringing back classic cocktails and following the original recipes without shortcuts,” Tyler says. “And for our newer drinks we have a lot of fun and come up with our own recipes. The Farmer’s Market cocktail gives bartenders and restaurant managers creative control, as they change it weekly. One of my goals last year was to put more focus on our cocktails, especially in our newer locations. We built our reputation on craft beer, and now we’re extending it with craft cocktails.”
On the classic side, Eureka offers a Sazerac, Manhattan, Boulevardier, Mint Julep and Negroni, among others. The Sazerac comprises Buffalo Trace ’s Sazerac rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters and Legendre Herbsaint Original liqueur. The venue’s newer drinks include the Bourbon Maple Martini, made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, maple syrup and lemon juice; the Rosemary’s Ruby Red, comprising Junípero gin, Peychaud’s bitters, grapefruit and lemon juices, and homemade rosemary simple syrup; and the Capuchin’s Greyhound, a blend of Fugu vodka, Leopold Bros. Maraschino liqueur, Sun Liquor Grapefruit bitters, grapefruit juice, basil and simple syrup.
The beverage segment has always been a key part of the experience for Eureka restaurants and that definitely remains the case today. “My intent is to never stay comfortable,” Tyler says. “I try to develop new drinks and make drinks better. From the inception of our brand, we’ve always been committed to carrying craft products, and we’ve come a long way. Four years ago, I walked into Eureka as a customer, and it turned into a great career. The restaurants bring craft beer and cocktail lovers together to bond over great food and support entrepreneurs throughout the country. We carry great products from people who are taking risks. That’s what the foundations of America were built on, and we support that today.”