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Posted on Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:09 a.m.

Big Boy's @burger restaurant closes on East Liberty Street in Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs


Melanie Maxwell |

(Editor's note: See also, Squares Restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor closes 'for summer vacation')

A sign on the door at @burger on East Liberty Street announces the restaurant has closed for business.

The restaurant closed about a year after the Big Boy Restaurants chain announced it would start the new concept in Ann Arbor, then expand it to other locations.

The 3,185-square-foot restaurant opened in summer 2010 in the McKinley Towne Centre Building at 505 E. Liberty.

Other tenants in the building include Tomukun Noodle Bar, the lab coffee shop and FedEx/Kinkos.

When the @burger concept was announced last year, Big Boy CEO Keith Sirois said the restaurant would likely become a national chain, possibly even opening a second location in Ann Arbor this year.

However, the closing of the first @burger location raises questions about the future of the national concept.

David Crawford, senior vice president of marketing for Big Boy, said the closing of the restaurant is probably the end of the @burger brand.

"This was an experiment," Crawford said. "We had a lot of learnings from it and some of those could potentially be used at Big Boy."

@burger was among several hamburger restaurants opening and seeking space in Ann Arbor in 2010, including Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Dan Pasick, former regional leasing director for McKinley, said in a report last year that @burger won the lease for the space over Five Guys, which is now located about a block east on South State.

Crawford said the opening of Five Guys in January "definitely didn't help" the @burger restaurant.

"I think the town can only support so many burger concepts," he said.

Crawford also said the restaurant took a hit when many University of Michigan students left for the summer.

"Based on our location, we were surprised how many students we got," he said. "I didn't expect sales to drop as much as they did when the students left."

@burger offered a limited selection of mostly burgers, chicken sandwiches and salads, all priced under $10. The restaurant also had a beer and wine license.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at


zac zellers

Wed, Jun 29, 2011 : 8:54 p.m.

the employees wore t-shirts that said "@hole".


Wed, Jun 29, 2011 : 2:52 a.m.

I thought it was good when my husband and I went there.

Gregory Colvin-Garcia

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 10:56 p.m.

What is fascinating about this story is Big Boy chose Ann Arbor to test out a "new" store concept. The business model they are working to capitalize on is the Chipotle Grill model which seems to be the trend in newer franchises. You take a simple food concept like Subway did so successfully, strip it down to its essentials and then begin to provide high value extras to the customers that make your place irresistible. Both Subway and Chipotle provide a very good product for a very fair price coming in under $10 with chips and a drink. Subway is starker and less refined but consistent with its branding (SUBWAY) where as Chipotle is a larger, warmer and hip package and also consistent with its more gourmet branding (CHIPOTLE)... You can see the same model being applied in Pot Belly, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Noodles and Company. Lastly, I hope Big Boy's "learnings" include the importance of distinct image and branding, marketing and a consistently themed venue…


Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 6:06 p.m.

I just had a burger at Five Guys.Yum! That's one restaurant I'd like to see here - although it wasn't cheap!

Matthew Snyder

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

There was an article here a few months ago about the growth in middle-of-the-road Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurants which mentioned the opening of two new places: La Marsa and La Pita Fresh. It's like everyone decided to open a burger place or a falafel joint all at the same time. <a href=""></a> They were supposed to be opening in May but both are still &quot;coming soon&quot; as far as I know. I'm willing to give them a chance, but it's not looking good. Too much competition and not enough differentiation. It's hard to do Middle Eastern differently, and in terms of downtown options, J Garden already pretty much nails it. More variety, please!

John Seldin

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.



Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

I saw this coming from a mile away

Patrick Haggood

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

&quot;Brew with that burger&quot; seems to be working for Quickie on S. State Street up from Pizza Bob's.

Ryan Munson

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 4:21 a.m.

Great Plains is definitely my place to stop. I can actually bike there if I want.

David Paris

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 2:50 a.m.

I prefer to &quot;Keep Ann Arbor Funky&quot; and walk right by chains like @Burger (a corporate-owned potential chain), and Five Guys... and 7-Eleven, and downtown CVS, the list goes on.


Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

I agree, but I would be really happy if they put a Wendy's in there. :D


Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 12:57 a.m.

Tragic news. *sarcasm font*


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 11:41 p.m.

Only went there once. Burger was awful real greasy and the service was the same if not worse. I took a bunch of people from work and was embarrassed of the outcome. I can't believe Big Boy had anything to do with that hot mess. Epic Fail!!


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 10:05 p.m.

The great burger bubble of 2010-2011 has burst.

Jon Saalberg

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

Tried both. One is definitely more upscale than the other, and had alcohol, but I think the phrase, &quot;you want a brew with that burger&quot; didn't work out for this Big Boy concept. People want cheap burgers, at least as this thread of eating goes. They're quite willing to pay $8 for a burger if it's Casey's or Red Hawk, but those are entirely different experiences than cheap burgers, old rock and roll, and free peanuts.

Rod Johnson

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.

Please please please bring me a Waffle House for Christmas. I've been good! There's one in Toledo, that's close enough that it's not a huge leap.

Jimmy McNulty

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:05 p.m.

OK, I seem to be in the minority here, but I had a really great, reasonably priced burger and beer there. The thing they do right with burgers is the bun. They were substantial and did not fall apart like some of the other Wonder Bread-type rolls some restaurants use.

John of Saline

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

He actually said &quot;learnings&quot;?

Rod Johnson

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:07 p.m.

I know, I laughed at that. Also &quot;I think the town can only support so many burger concepts.&quot; Yeah, that's the problem, too many concepts.

Top Cat

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

They come and go. Who cares. As long as Le Dog lives long and prospers.


Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

Had a great kosher hot dog at Five Guys.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:30 p.m.

I hate to see any restaurant fail but @Burger (bad name BTW) reaped what they sowed. Their burgers were pretty good and I liked their fries, but the music was so god-awful loud that you couldn't have a conversation in the place and they wouldn't turn it down. Also, their chocolate shakes were the worst in town. I and my dining partner each took one sip and agreed instantly that the shake was not drinkable, tasting of some dreadful syrup and not chocolate, and having the consistency of molasses. We complained but they refused to refund our money. So we never went back and took our business to Five Guys as soon as they opened. Also like Great Plains and Blimpy's.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

It was OK, but just OK. As someone else said, with so many other options within easy walking distance, it needed to be better than just OK. I'm also with Dr. Rockso about Five Guys. It's certainly nothing to rave about. Someone asked which place would be next to close. I nominate Squares. I walked by there the other day, and it said that they were &quot;on vacation&quot; or some such. I'm not sure they're coming back from vacation. My wife and I went there one time, and it wasn't even OK. It was bad. Someone needs to tell the people behind these restaurants that the food's the thing, not the concept.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

No need to wonder who is next. Anyone else notice that Squares (further down on Liberty) closed up over the weekend? They say they are closed for summer break. Huh? I think they are closed for good.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:22 p.m.

&quot;We had a lot of learnings from it...&quot; I think that says it all.

Some Guy in 734

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

The problem is clear as day, and it's in the fourth paragraph from the end. Where do I go when I want a burger? Any number of places. (Heck, Banfield's slab of mince, unapologetically served with Velveeta, has a lot to recommend it. Particularly on the second pint or beyond.) Where do I go when I want a burger concept? Nowhere. I don't especially like eating concepts, so I find myself wanting them not all that often.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

I can't miss it because I never knew it was there.

Wolf's Bane

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:48 p.m.

Not surprising really. @burger on East Liberty Street had nothing unique to offer and the Big Boy connection was gross.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

Although a lot of users here feel better about themselves for posting negative comments (and apparently relishing in another Michigan business closing and people losing their jobs), I--for one--am sad to see it go. It was always clean, accessible, and the employees nothing short of professional. More than anything, though, it was a great alternative to loud obnoxious sports bars (e.g. Scorekeepers) and personality-less national chains (e.g. Five Guys.) Haters gonna hate, though.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

I have to agree. I didn't think it was the best food in town, but I preferred their burger and fries to Five Guys any day. The employees were always friendly, and I hope they all can find other work soon, since it seems they likely had no notice.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:41 p.m.

I would love to see a Cheeburger Cheeburger Restaurant go into this location! Not only great burgers but also salads, wraps, etc...great fries and home made onion rings too! <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Lauren McLeod

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 7:53 p.m.

The last thing we need is another place that focuses on burgers...I think this is evidence enough. Forget the chains, I'd rather see a restaurant unique to A2 occupy the space, i.e. Mani Osteria just down the street.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:38 p.m.

The stupidly-named @burger would've survived if but for one major problem: Their burgers are TERRIBLE.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:22 p.m.

Never dined @burger. Since it was a Big Boy corporate venture, you'd think that they'd have put their decades of experience into the plan .... or maybe they did, and that's the problem. Mystery solved, since the departure of students for the summer really shouldn't have been one.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

Let me get this straight... 1) Open a burger restaurant next to campus. 2) Prices are fairly reasonable. 3) Express surprise when business drops off during the summer, when tens of thousands of potential customers are absent... All you can do is shrug your shoulders. I never tried it so I can't testify to whether other comments about lack of imagination are correct. A burger is a burger - all I care about is the freshness of the ingredients. But they don't seem to understand the concept of a college town.

information please

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:54 p.m.

If you want a great burger, Sidetrack in Ypsilanti is the place to be. @burger was marginal at best.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

&quot;@burger offered a limited selection of mostly burgers, chicken sandwiches and salads, all priced under $10.&quot; Once you add chips (not fries) and a drink, you are over $10. One can go to Cloverleaf Diner and get the same items for half the price.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

Not anymore you can't.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

&quot;I didn't expect sales to drop as much as they did when the students left.&quot; this from the VP of Marketing, David Crawford? Really? And where did he expect the &quot;other' foot traffic to come from? Potentially 20,000 student customers leave each summer, and it took the opening of the store to figure this out? Gee, let's hope McKinley can now convince 5 Guys to move...oh wait, we didn't want them in the space originally.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

No surprise. Every other restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor has a burger and fries on the menu.

Dr. Rockso

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.

I tried @burger and it wasn't bad. But for the life of me I can't figure out why people rave about Five Guy's I found Five Guy's Burger to be a thin over cooked piece of crap that makes Wendy's burger look like a gourmet feast. If you want a good burger avoid the chains and go to Casey's or Sidetrack.

Rod Johnson

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:08 p.m.

Sweet validation. I thought I was the only one who didn't understand the fuss.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

Agreed--@burgers were so dry and to be more like hockey pucks, but I don't get the gaga over Five Guys either--tried them twice and let's just say they didn't agree with me.

Some Guy in 734

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 7:40 p.m.

Five Guys *over*cooked? I've eaten at a Five Guys twice, two different locations, out of state. Both times the burgers were rarer than I was comfortable with. Both times I didn't want to make a fuss, and ate 'em anyway. Both times, I discovered I'd been sold not a burger, but a burger-shaped body cleanse.

Jeff Renner

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

Or Knight's.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.

ditto on 5 Guys. A better burger can be found anywhere.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:31 p.m.

Crazy I was just in there on Friday and there was no indication they would be closed. I kept meaning to try them out but I never did, oh well as long as there's still Blimpy's and 5 Guys then I'm ok!

Atticus F.

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

So I guess putting tables and chairs next to the dumpsters didn't pay off like they expected.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

Just blew some coffee out my nose on that on A.F.!!! Good one.

Brian M.

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.

Ouch. @Burger over 5 Guys is a mistake. Two for three with lab and Tomukun isn't too bad I guess. I've been waiting for this for a while. The bottom line is @burger was ill-conceived and not very good. It was straight intimidating to try and figure out how to order your burger. The price point was such that there were better options in the area. Hopefully they fill the space with something cool.

Will Warner

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:26 p.m.


Lauren McLeod

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:57 p.m.

@burger never appealed to me - with all of the great local restaurants in that immediate area, why would I choose a place with mediocre food and an institutional feel? For those who are disappointed...try the burgers at Sava's - the food and ambiance are much more enjoyable.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

This is why city council has to be &quot;Pro-Business&quot;, so Ann Arbor can attracted the best and most profitable businesses. Nobody won on this deal!

Peter Baker

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:54 p.m.

What should the city council have done here, show them how to make burgers that didn't suck?

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 6:10 p.m.

Oh, well. Maybe *burg3r will succeed where @burger failed...


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

And so it begins. Any guess as to who is next?


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8 p.m.

Definitely &quot;Squares.&quot; Bland, boring food with one sauce for everything--so overpriced as to be laughable. They couldn't even give it away when they stood on the street handing out coupons for three months.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

It is not only burgers that seem to be the domain of the unimaginative. Pizza and &quot;Mediterranean&quot; joints are sprouting all over and no one seems to have any new ideas. Perhaps a few failures like this may make room for people who (a) have something new to offer, and (b) have a love of good food and cooking to go along with a good sense of business and not only the latter.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 9:25 p.m.

Different, if not &quot;new idea&quot;- Marcanos Take out on Packard just S of Stadium. good stuff!

Tom Joad

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

Burger joints are passing fad. There's nothing healthy about eating a greasy burger and fat-filled fries, topped off with a big gulp of high fructose corn syrup soda pop. No matter how they market it, these boutique burger places are nutritionally on the same level as McDonalds and Burger King, and they wonder why diabetes is spiking to record levels. Give your Islets of Langerhans cells in your pancreas a break today...they deserve it...they produce essential insulin.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 5:52 p.m.

I can also assure you that not everyone who has diabetes got that way from eating at burger joints. But you just keep on blaming people for getting sick if it makes you feel superior.


Tue, Jun 28, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Next to go out of style: money and sex.

simply amazed

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 8:53 p.m.

Joad - On behalf of us greasy burger, fat-filled fry eating, high fructose corn syrup soda pop drinkers of the world, we respectfully request that you stay out of our Islets and keep your Langerhans to yourself. I apologize if that request is directed toward someone suffering direct or indirect hardship with diabetes, but I'll call mama next time I want a scolding and a physiology lesson. I'm still not sure who &quot;they&quot; are that are wondering why diabetes is spiking to record levels, but I'm sure it's not burger entrepreneurs. In the spirit of being supportive, Go tofu!!


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

Agreed. I don't think these &quot;hamburger&quot; things have a chance here in America. I give this fad 100, 200 more years, tops.

Buster W.

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

Could this be a signal that downtown Ann Arbor has too many burger joints???


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

With @burger gone, maybe now there's room in an otherwise saturated niche for Smashburger, or better yet, Fatburger. Or maybe we should just back away from the burger craze and find something new to fixate upon.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 5:26 p.m.

Hot Dogs!


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

I've eaten at many of these chains, including Smashburger and Fatburger. I don't think any of them are very good, and most are over-priced, given that so many things are &quot;extra&quot;, like fries. Paying $40-$50 for a family of 4 to eat hamburgers is crazy. Fuddruckers, before that chain had financial problems, was good.

Jorie O'Brien

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

And nothing of value was lost.

Jojo B

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

Weird confusing name, so-so burgers, somewhat awkward seating, and far too many other &quot;gourmet burger&quot; joints popping up in town. You've got to be really good to survive with such an unoriginal follow-the-others idea. Bagger Dave's, 5 Guys, and Great Plains does it much better.


Mon, Jun 27, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

Meh...the hamburgers weren't that great and I think with 5 Fellaz moving in up the street they knew they were DOOMED.