At a time when rising food prices and a lagging economy are putting the squeeze on the restaurant business, hamburger joint Black Meg 43 continues to expand.
Brothers Robert and John Vasseur opened the first location in Copperas Cove in 2010. Since then, they have opened three more locations in Killeen, Belton and Harker Heights. They opened the Heights location just before Christmas.
John Vasseur handles the day-to-day operations for the chain, while professionally trained chef Robert Vasseur handles the kitchen and creative duties.
After first joking it was a “trade secret,” John Vasseur explained how he managed to build a hamburger mini-empire at a time when many restaurants could barely keep their doors open.
“We set a realistic profit margin,” Vasseur said. “We can’t shoot for a 15 to 20 percent profit margin. We were shooting more for 8 to 10 percent. I think that is why we are succeeding. We’re not overpricing our food. We’re not trying to maximize the profit from everything we sell.
“We thought 9 to 10 cents on the dollar was a pretty good return,” Vasseur said. “And we had to be competitive if we wanted to be in the burger business. It is obviously very competitive with all the national chains. We didn’t want to price ourselves out of the market. We think our burgers are as good, if not better, than like a Five Guys’ burger. If you go in there and buy a burger, fries and a drink, it’s going to cost you $10, whereas here, it’s half that price.”
Quality burgers and low prices were the driving force behind the expansion, Vasseur said. He added that low prices have made up for the company’s non-existent marketing budget.
“Pricing was key,” he said. “ The $5 cheeseburger combo is a great deal. It’s way underpriced. We’re shooting for a 35 percent food cost, and on that combo, it is over 40 percent. But it is one of those things where we can give somebody an affordable meal. And it helps us with our advertising. We really don’t do any advertising. The $5 combo does our advertising for us.”
Black Meg 43 is the culmination of decades of hard work in the Army and the burger business for Vasseur.
“I worked at Burger King when I was 16,” he said. “I was in the Army from 1977 until 1980. Then I was in the National Guard until I went back into active duty from 1988 until 2002. I went to McDonald’s Hamburger University, and I was a store manager for them. I am very familiar with the burger industry.”
Origin of name
That explains why the Vasseurs chose burgers, but it doesn’t explain how they came up with Black Meg 43 for a name. Vasseur said he wanted something to reflect the fact that all Black Meg 43 burgers are made from Angus beef.
“When we were researching a name for our restaurant, we knew we were going to be dealing with Angus,” Vasseur said. “We came across the story of Black Meg 43, a cow that was born in Scotland in the early 1800s. More Angus cattle today trace back to her than any other females in the breed. She was the founder of the Angus breed. So it is a homage. And we just thought it was a cool name.”