Whether as a coach or as a restaurateur, Don Shula has banked on making the right plays.
And with this summer’s opening of Shula Burger in Delray Beach — one of 34 restaurants bearing his name nationwide — the legendary football coach hopes to continue his winning streak, amid a competitive restaurant industry.
“You have to have that teamwork to put it all together,” Shula said Tuesday. “You have to have the owner, you have to have the coaches, you have to have the players, and then the fans are your customers.”
The restaurant group is best known for operating steak houses, sports bars, airport restaurants and waterside restaurants, where the menu centers around seafood. The first restaurant with the Shula name opened in 1989.
Shula Burger at Delray Marketplace, which opened last month, is one of a handful of its kind throughout South Florida. The fast-casual restaurant, where customers order at the register, take a number, sit and have their meals delivered to their tables, is the latest concept for Shula’s Steak Houses LLLP.
“Our goal is to continue to build our presence here in South Florida,” said Dave Shula, Don’s son, a former NFL player and coach himself, who is president of the firm that bears the family name. “We are taking our 24 years of experience in full-service restaurants and applying it to the fast-casual world.”
The fast-casual segment in the restaurant industry is one of the fastest growing, experts said.
“It’s getting to be a crowded field,” said Ron Ruggless, southwest bureau chief at Nation’s Restaurant News in Dallas.
Among the expanding burger chains are Five Guys and Smashburger, he said.
“The gourmet burger segment was put back on simmer during much of the recession, but the heat has been turned back to high, and we can expect not only regional chains to continue their bold growth ambitions but even foreign brands to plant their flags here,” said Aaron Allen, founder of Orlando-based Aaron Allen & Associates LLC, a global restaurant consultancy firm.
Shula’s high-profile name will help Shula Burger compete with other newcomers, Allen said.
“Restaurants fail for one of two reasons: lack of capital or lack of management,” he said. “While Shula’s is not regarded in the industry as a benchmark of service and management standards, the Shula name certainly helps draw not only customers but capital.”
Another Shula Burger is slated to open in Kissimmee in October.
Menu items at Shula Burger include the “The BIG Dog” — a 1/4-pound, beef hot dog, yellow mustard and onion sauce on a pretzel roll and “Wine Country,” a burger with roasted peppers, goat cheese, balsamic greens and roasted tomato.
But the real conversation starter, the Shulas said, is “The Don.”
“It’s a beautiful hamburger with a hot dog on top,” Don Shula said, adding that it’s his favorite menu item. “I sit there and stare at it and just can’t wait to bite into it.”
There are no other burgers named after famous football stars.
“If I ever did name a burger after a player it would be the [Tony] Sacca burger,” the Hall of Fame coach said smiling. “He was a big, strong guy and did whatever he had to do to win … the Sacca burger. Everybody would want to take a bite out of it.”
Laurie Berke, of Delray Beach, took a bite of a mushroom burger Tuesday. She said she’s not much of a burger eater, probably eating about one a year, but walked into Shula Burger with her nieces who were visiting from New York.
“It’s very juicy. It’s delicious,” said Berke, 57. “He’s got a hit here.”
BY MIRIAM VALVERDE