December 6, 2010 | last updated May 30, 2012 12:02 am

Jake's Wayback Burgers Grows Despite Economy

For Cheshire-based Jake's Wayback Burgers, setting themselves apart from other hamburger restaurant chains was all in the name.

The company's recent name change — from Jake's Hamburgers to Jake's Wayback Burgers, with an emphasis on "Wayback" — is part of a rebranding strategy focusing on growing the company's franchise properties throughout the region and other into parts of the country.

Started in 1991 in Delaware by founder John Carter, Jake's Hamburgers had four company locations by 2002. By 2008, Jake's had eight corporate locations and two franchises.

Jake's Wayback president John Eucalitto and partner Bill Chemaro then came on board to create a franchising branch, moving the chain's headquarters to Cheshire. Today, Jake's Wayback has six corporate stores and 54 operating or under development franchise locations. They include existing restaurants in East Windsor, Rocky Hill, Mystic and Stratford, and not-yet-open sites in Torrington, Fairfield, West Hartford and Orange.

The company's plans for expansion through franchise opportunities were not without hang ups. The biggest problem: the restaurant's name.

"Our original name was not something that could be a registered trademark," said Eucalitto. "There are lots of 'Jake's' (businesses) — even other Jake's Hamburgers that exist in other parts of the country."

Because the name "Jake's Hamburgers" is well-known in strongholds such as Delaware and Pennsylvania, the company is using "Jake's Wayback Burgers" in those markets while emphasizing the simpler "Wayback Burgers" in other markets.

The name change came with an image and design change as well, with the help of well-known restaurant designer Peter Niemitz of Niemitz Design Group.

"He came up with a new look and feel that brought us back to an era of the 1920s and '30s, like the old luncheonettes and drugstores," Eucalitto said.

After a months-long search for the 'right' name, a task that included assistance from consumers as well as Wilmington, Del.-based marketing firm Trellist, the company settled on Wayback, in part because of the marketing opportunities that exist with the name.

Eucalitto said the company also took advantage of the market for its rapid franchising growth.

"In any down economy, it's typically a good time for the franchising industry, if you have a concept that makes sense and has the right cost of entry," he said. "Without that right cost of entry, it's difficult for people to go into business for themselves."

Eucalitto said Jake's Wayback cut its opening expenses, which had been about $400,000 two years ago, to the current $200,000 to $250,000 range.

"We've cut down on the size of our locations, the size of the equipment we use, the POS (cash register) systems," he said. "We focus on the 1,500- to 1,600-foot locations. People just don't have enough money to spend $300,000 to $500,000 to open a business."

Vincent Engingro of Weichert Realtors Suburban Properties, the exclusive real estate representative for finding potential Jake's Wayback restaurant sites, said finding new locations is actually becoming easy because of the economy.

"Companies that aren't successful are going out of business, and prime locations not normally available are becoming available," Engingro said. "There are also more franchisees looking to buy themselves a new career and there are prime locations — it becomes a great scenario. I can get on the corner of Main and Main now."

Engingro said landlords are looking for a good tenant, and Jake's Wayback is able to take advantage of better deals in the market that fit their business model.

Sandra McFarlane-Weston, the franchise owner of the East Windsor restaurant, got herself into the game when she opened her business a little over a year ago. A former Subway restaurant franchisee, she said she was intrigued the first time she ran across the company on the Internet.

"I went to a seminar and I said to myself, 'I would love to deal with this company,'" said McFarlane-Weston, who is also a professional cosmetologist.

McFarlane-Weston said the most positive aspect of her dealings with Jake's Wayback Burgers is the relationship the company promotes with franchisees and the support they offer.

"I have my own corporate liaison I can call at any given time," she said. "They offer a wide range of assistance. I'm really happy. It's their business, and I'm buying their concept."

Eucalitto said the company's unique and nostalgic offerings at a fair price set Jake's Wayback apart from similar restaurants. "Very few people make milkshakes like we do, where we hand-scoop the ice cream, with syrups, and serve them in metal tins," he said. "We think we do a real good job on the creativity side as well."

Around Thanksgiving, the restaurants served up a turkey burger, complete with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Another customer favorite is the fresh-cooked potato chips, served warm.

McFarlane-Weston said the chain's products are what make it successful.

"Everything is fresh," she said. "They preach 100 percent customer satisfaction and customer service, and I'm all about that."

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