Newer burger joints shy from diner branding

Colton Soelberg is the founder of Chom and many other Provo restaurant establishments. (Gianluca Cuestas)

Giant bulbs illuminate the signs of the newly opened burger joint Chom and the well-known Cubby’s restaurant. The signs are reminiscent of an old-time movie theater, and Chom’s founders hope their sign will establish their new brand.

“The movies feel big, and we looked at a few different sign options and said, ‘OK let’s do Chom in bright lights, the biggest, baddest sign in Provo if we can,'” co-founder of Chom and BYU alumnus Mike Smith said. “So that’s what we did.”

Smith and his partners Colton Soelberg and John Petersen came together to create Chom, a new dining experience in Provo, which opened on Sept. 1.

Soelberg is no stranger to the Provo food scene. He has worked as a chef for 22 years and helped start Communal and Pizzeria 712. Smith credits Soelberg with being a “pioneer for food culture in Provo.”

While Soelberg has had his hands in a variety of restaurants in the Provo and Orem areas, his vision for Chom came from a desire for customers to have a more simple and accessible experience.

“I bounced back and forth between a lot of different ideas. I ultimately came back to burgers. I like the simplicity of it, and I love burgers,” Soelberg said.

Chom currently has a chalk board sketch of “Star Wars” in its dining room. Chom and Cubby’s both have distinct characteristics that make them unique. (Gianluca Cuestas)

Chom may be a restaurant, but Smith, who oversaw construction and marketing with Petersen, explained it’s a brand as well.

In a competitive market of burger joints with identifying brands, Smith recognized the importance of creating a unique feel for Chom.

Smith and his partners were inspired mainly by Shake Shack when deciding on Chom’s branding. He credits Shake Shack with bringing burgers back to the present, instead of relying on the past for a dining experience. 

“A lot of other restaurants look backward as to what a burger restaurant should feel like and how the brand should feel,” Smith said. “But we feel like there’s an audience out there that wants to have a current experience.”

Smith also said Chom is influenceable even though it is young.

“You have a concept of what (your brand) might be, but it’s just like when you name a child, you don’t really know how it’s going to evolve,” Smith said. “So now we’re starting to pour in and we’re interacting with customers and getting a sense of what we want it to become.”

Aubrey Kushing, a junior studying history teaching at BYU, made her first-time visit to Chom on Oct. 1. Kushing thought Chom was reasonably priced for the quality it provided.

“Better quality, more expensive though — which if you want a good burger is fine with me,” Kushing said.

Soelberg admits the price is higher than an average fast food restaurant or drive thru, but the high quality experience is still worth it for college students.

Cubby’s, a restaurant specializing in Chicago beef, has been opening locations all throughout Utah for years. The first location was built in Provo in 2012. (Ryan Turner)

“It’s a great place for a date or a late night. You just want to come and grab something and hang out with friends. It’s a great spot for all that,” Soelberg said.

Chom is a newly developed burger place in comparison to Cubby’s, a Chicago Beef restaurant that opened locations throughout Utah in the past four years. Cubby’s is available in Provo, Lehi, Spanish Fork, Sugarhouse, Taylorsville and South Jordan.

Owner and founder Cubby James wanted to bring his native Chicago beef to Utah, while also having healthy options on the menu for consumers.

“My wife has a really healthy palette and I like to eat healthy too, so we just wanted to give healthy food to everyone,” James said.

James created the first Provo location using whatever resources were available to him at the time, and with the help of family, friends and previous connections.

“It was a team effort, and it was a lot of fun doing it that way,” James said.

The branding of Cubby’s is important for the restaurant’s success, according to James. He admits it is difficult to quantify if it brings in money or clientele, but it still serves a purpose.

“For us, it’s important because we like design and we know people appreciate it because people will make comments,” James said. “We didn’t want every store to be exactly the same, so all six stores have a different feel. We like to have a different design, different feel because it’s a talking point. Instead of just going and eating food, people can talk about the design and how unique it is.”

BYU exercise and wellness student Elisabeth Wiser said she enjoys visiting Cubby’s because of the “young and fun” brand.

“I love the menu style, feel and atmosphere of the restaurant,” Wiser said.

Both restaurateurs actually know each other, and James provided some advice for Chom. He advised Chom to pay attention to the needs of the customers, and rely on word of mouth and social media to get the word out.

“You’re only going to make it from your customers if your customers like you and the food quality is high,” James said. “If you’re going to go for it and you’re going to make it, you just have to go all in.”

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