By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Since its initial opening on Monday, November 9, cars have flocked to Burger 101. Backed bumper to bumper, eager families, friends and burger lovers awaited the latest venture gracing East Broad Street – a new restaurant dedicated to serve.
“Everybody seems excited that we would want to do this here in Gadsden,” said Burger 101 owner Z.A. Hughes. “Everybody has been open with us about being excited, wanting to come back and support us and see us succeed. I have people stop and see me and realize I’m the one who is kind of involved and wish me good luck. From the time we open to the time we close, people are just so excited. We put out the initial post on Facebook, just posting the menu, and we had over 50,000 people view it – that’s more than the population of Gadsden.”
Hughes’ relationship with the restaurants began in his childhood as he frequently attended work with his mother, who served customers in the same business realm. While attending Auburn University, Hughes pursued engineering and worked at Chick-fil-A. During his time at Chick-fil-A, Hughes caught the eye of his employers, who recognized his knack for thriving in the food industry and encouraged him to consider a similar career path.
“Serving people has always been something I’ve been drawn to,” said Hughes. “This industry provides me with the opportunity to impact people’s lives every day. This is an opportunity for me to give back to the community and to our employees; and to make a difference. That’s what it’s about for me. That’s where my calling was – to be able to influence people on a mass level.”
Hughes spent the next decade working with Chick-fil-A as a corporate trainer, traveling across the United States and interviewing at the highest level for the franchise. After his time at Chick-fil-A, Hughes worked at two other chain restaurants before he decided to embark on a new adventure.
Although Hughes gained valuable experience while working with franchises, he wanted to create something personal. After years of following set rules regarding menus and food preparation, Hughes felt that the most efficient and effective way for him to truly produce positive change was through a single restaurant built for a specific area, with its community in mind.
“We really wanted to put something here that was going to be a staple,” said Hughes. “You have all these staples in the community that have been here for years, and we really wanted to create something that was inspired by Gadsden. I live here; I’m local. In the design work, we wanted to make sure we paid homage to Gadsden – because the success is going to be built on Gadsden.”
That sense of dedication that nurtured Hughes’ initial vision manifested in Burger 101, a community-based restaurant with a product that appeals to the masses. Over the course of 11 months, Hughes developed his idea into a reality, finalizing every detail from the menu to the atmosphere when customers walk through the door.
Tributes to Gadsden filter throughout the restaurant, with photos of iconic local spots like Noccalula Falls and the recent Gadsden mural displayed above booths and tables. Simple yet diverse, the menu provides customers with options to curb their cravings. Its classic burgers and fries are crafted fresh each day and made to order for each customer. If visitors find themselves searching for other possibilities, Burger 101 also offers staples like chicken fingers, chicken sandwiches and salads to accompany its traditional favorites. Ice cream and milkshakes join the selection to satisfy each guests’ sweet tooth, the perfect treats to coincide with beloved classics.
Despite the perception that the restaurant falls into the fast food category, Burger 101 stands alone in its efforts to provide all its visitors with delicious meals of quality, which Hughes admits takes time.
“I know that some people have talked about the speed,” said Hughes. “It’s not fast food. We understand the drive thru times might be a little slower in comparison, but we’re really trying to push that fresh aspect. It’s fresh hamburger meat, and we’re trying to make sure everything is cooked to order. Give us some time and we’ll figure it out.”
Burger 101’s slogan, “Back to the Basics,” encompasses its mantra of rekindling the core essence of classic restaurants and blending old fashioned values with modern perks. With its outdoor seating, homey layout and friendly staff, guests are welcome to return time and time again.
“Everything is an homage to the past,” said Hughes. “It’s a place where you and your family can come and have a burger and shake in an old-fashioned setting but yet a modern environment. We want people to come in here and enjoy gathering with others.”
Throughout his years in the restaurant business, Hughes discovered several lessons that shaped his perception of this latest adventure. His commitment to creating an individualized and unique staple for his community emerges evident in his open minded approach to all feedback, while his dedication to efficiency develops with each passing day. As he and his team learn and grow their business, they provide their customers with more than a meal, but with an impressionable experience they will never forget. While Hughes strives to improve, Burger 101 represents the collaborative efforts of individuals who recognize that the heart of a place rests with its people.
“The people are what I enjoy the most,” said Hughes. “I love knowing that my employees come to work every day and they have a good time…they enjoy coming to work. We do a lot of other things in life, but we do this because we want to create those experiences for our employees and our customers.
“No matter what, it’s about the customer service. The food is just a vessel. Yes, it’s got to be right. We’re going to mess things up, we’re going to do things wrong, but we’re going to do things right too. At the end of the day, if people come in here and we get a smiling face [that’s what matters]. From the feedback so far, everyone has really commented on the customer service. We really want to deliver that. That’s the most important thing. We’ll figure out the other parts. We have a lot of experience here, between myself and other people on the staff. We can figure out how to do things and procedures down the line and adapt and grow as we learn. As long as everybody comes in here and we can create a good culture for our employees and a good culture for our customers, then I think we’ll be doing well.”