- The Washington Times - Monday, April 7, 2008

A Falls Church hamburger shop is hoping to raise the status of the common Washington hamburger.

Elevation Burger, which serves organic hamburgers and fries cooked in olive oil, is hoping to spread its success with a group of new restaurants across the region.

Elevation Burger opened in September 2005 in Falls Church.

Owner Hans Hess said he enjoyed organic burgers while growing up in California and wanted to bring the taste to the Washington area. He also patented a process of cooking french fries in olive oil — a move that required temperature and time changes.

“One of the things we wanted to do is bring a West-Coast-style burger option out here,” Mr. Hess said, adding that a small bun is one of the primary attributes of a “West Coast” burger.

Mr. Hess added to the menu with veggie burgers and milkshakes made with real ice cream, and now has lines out the door on weekends.

Elevation Burger started selling franchises last month, he said.

About 15 stores are planned, with up to 10 in the District, Arlington and Alexandria over the next 18 months.

Mr. Hess said he is not intimidated by another locally grown hamburger chain that has spurred a loyal following — perhaps one started by five guys.

“We’re a totally different product,” he said, touting the health benefits of olive oil and organic beef that comes from free-range, grass-fed cattle.

The company will put more emphasis on the organic label now that it is franchising. Mr. Hess estimates that only half of his customers realize the hamburgers are healthy, and said most of them just like the flavor.

“Most people come in and think it’s a good burger,” he said. “They hear that it’s organic and say, ‘Hey that’s neat.’ ”

Franchise fever

Franchises from across the country will be descending on the District this weekend for the annual International Franchise Expo.

The event, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center from Friday to Sunday, hosts a broad menu of franchises including food vendors, health care companies and parcel shippers.

The International Franchise Association (IFA), which runs the expo, also holds seminars for people in all stages of setting up a franchise.

“The thing we stress is that a franchise has a lot of advantages, but at the end of the day it’s still a small business,” said Terry Hill, spokesman for the IFA, which is based in the District.

Franchise sales — both at the register and the number of stores purchased — typically rise when the economy is foundering, Mr. Hill said.

“Franchises are well-known brands and proven systems,” he said.

“Franchises help you start further down the path than an individual” starting a business from the ground up.”

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Send news and tips to Jen Haberkorn at jhaberkorn@washington times.com or 202/636-4836.

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