By Kurt Batdorf HBJ Editor
MARYSVILLE — David Jones is bullish on his burgers.
The CEO and “president of imagination” for Blazing Onion Burgers is putting the finishing touches on the company’s newest restaurant that sits in the Gateway Shopping Center at the northeast corner of the interchange of 116th Street NE and I-5 in Marysville. He said it will be open soon after Veterans’ Day.
This Blazing Onion, the fourth in Snohomish County and the fifth in the small chain, follows the same general layout of the Blazing Onion restaurant in Gig Harbor, Jones said. And like every other Blazing Onion Jones and his wife, Lorri, have opened since their first in Mill Creek in 2007, this one incorporates lessons learned from the operation of its predecessors.
Two things they changed from the Gig Harbor restaurant’s similar layout: Move the lobby to the building’s corner to create a single dining area, and get the Coca-Cola soda fountains that dispense diner-customized flavors out of the lobby’s foot traffic.
Jones said he had the 4,800-square-foot Marysville restaurant ready to go in 2010 when Gateway’s former landlord pulled out of a development deal at the 11th hour. That’s when the management at Alderwood mall offered Jones a lease on the former Ruby’s Diner. The Alderwood Blazing Onion opened in June 2011.
“We were committed to Marysville first, then Alderwood called,” Jones said.
After the Alderwood Blazing Onion opened, Jones said he sent regular teaser updates to Gateway’s partners to show them what they were missing.
Meanwhile, Gateway’s plans for a different restaurant fell through and a new set of owners asked Jones earlier this year if he was still interested in the Marsyville site despite the original deal’s failure.
“Yes,” he said. “Why do you think I’ve been sending all of those teasers?”
The new restaurant seats 180 customers and features two outdoor dining areas. It will have TV monitors throughout the building and embraces technology like no other Blazing Onion.
Where the Alderwood restaurant features an order kiosk and custom pagers to link customers with any server, three Apple iPads in the Marysville restaurant’s lobby will allow customers to place their order before they take a seat in the dining room or lounge, Jones said. He’s been working with HubWorks Interactive of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to implement its iPad-based Foodhub point-of-sale ordering system. Servers will use other touch screens to get orders to the kitchen, which eliminates paper tickets for the line cooks.
“It’s new and exciting and scary,” he said.
Jones also heeds the online critics at Yelp.com who have embraced Blazing Onion’s upper-scale casual dining environment while expressing their dislike of ordering before sitting down.
“It’s a voice loud enough for us to hear it,” he said, explaining that Blazing Onion strives for a four-star average Yelp rating.
If the HubWorks system works as well as Jones hopes it does, he said he’ll bring it to his other restaurants. Future phases of the Foodhub system will feature personalized “memory bank” orders for individual customers, social media integration and online ordering from smartphones, he said.
“We want technology to enhance customer service,” Jones said. “We want to make it fun and workable.”
When Jones was working to open the Alderwood restaurant in 2011, his growth plans then included new restaurants in Seattle, the Eastside and Fort Lewis by 2013.
Those plans have changed. Jones found two 50-50 partners to go in on a new Blazing Onion at Tacoma Mall that will open in 2013 while the Fort Lewis restaurant is now planned to open in 2014. Jones said the partners will have an option after five years to take ownership as franchise holders or sell their interest back to Jones.
Lorri Jones continues to manage Blazing Onion’s finances and its menu research and development. David Jones said past menu R&D efforts focused on backyard barbecues for friends at the Joneses’ Lynnwood home — with hit and miss results. Now, he said, Lorri develops and tests new menu items with a small group of cooks and managers with strong culinary backgrounds. The Marysville restaurant will bring two more cooks to the R&D team.
New Blazing Onion menu items will include tacos and flatbread pizza.
While the Marysville restaurant is the fifth Blazing Onion the Joneses have opened in five years, they haven’t forgotten their other restaurants. Seeing the success of their Snohomish restaurant, Jones said their landlord needed just 30 seconds to agree to let them expand his building in return for a lease extension. They’ve remodeled the Mill Creek restaurant and they’ll fix the traffic jam with the Gig Harbor lobby and Coke machines.
“Every store we’ve done, we’re better prepared,” Jones said. “Our systems have improved every single time.”
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; firstname.lastname@example.org.