It all started with a fire. It was the Bastrop, Texas fires to be exact when the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history left a swath of devastation in the fall of 2011. Like many other businesses and organizations, a new restaurant in Austin stepped up to help with relief efforts in the neighboring town. From its location on South Congress, the then one-year-old Hopdoddy Burger Bar organized a benefit day where 100 percent of sales went to Bastrop, for a total donation of $15,376.68.
“From that, we realized what’s really important to us as a business, and started playing around with some ideas,” says Hopdoddy Burger Bar Brand Manager Erin Fohn, who has been with the company since that first South Congress location in 2010.
One early charitable effort at the stylish but casual burgers-and-beer joint involved designating a long, fourteen-seat table where a percentage of sales from every diner would be donated to a specific organization, along with company efforts toward helping other groups as needed. Four years after Bastrop, during the deadly Wimberley floods, the company pitched in again, this time donating 100 percent of one-day sales from their two Austin locations at the time, for a total of $44,777.82 to Wimberley Flood Relief.
It was not until 2013 that Hopdoddy’s charitable giving became more focused, thanks to a founder’s longtime involvement in the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, an Austin-based nonprofit dedicated to research and rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries and paralysis. Co-founder Larry Foles—who started Hopdoddy with fellow veteran restaurateurs Guy Villavaso, Larry Perdido, and Chuck Smith—came up with a unique approach to a whole new way of giving.
“His idea was to take a burger that we had on our menu and tack on one dollar,” says Fohn. “For every one of those sold, that dollar would go to the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation.”
That burger was the crowd-pleasing Goodnight Burger, a delectable stack of Angus beef, Tillamook cheddar, caramelized onions, jalapeños, hickory barbecue sauce, and Sassy Sauce on a made-from-scratch bun that has been on the menu since day one. In a veritable burger brainstorm, it was renamed the Goodnight/Good Cause Burger, and a very good cause was born.
Since then, the concept has been implemented at all 22 locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Tennessee, including a total of thirteen Texas stores in Austin, Addison, Houston, San Antonio, College Station, Dallas, and Fort Worth—each one teamed up with a local or area nonprofit that receives an annual check from Hopdoddy for the previous year of partnership. A burger beneficiary, if you will.
In Houston, for example, two of the locations contribute to the Periwinkle Foundation which develops programs for children and others dealing with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses at Texas Children’s Hospital; the third location benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society/Houston Chapter.
San Antonio’s sole location is teamed up with Silver & Black Give Back, the nonprofit partner of the Spurs Sports & Entertainment family of teams (including the beloved San Antonio Spurs) that fosters young talent through sports and service programs.
The College Station store partners with the locally-based Millican Alliance, dedicated to celebrating and encouraging community health through outdoor activities including agriculture, wildlife conservation, recreation, and the arts.
Perhaps the most touching and emotional partnership is between the four Dallas stores, the Fort Worth store, and Make-a-Wish® North Texas. “Have you ever seen a ‘wish reveal’ party?” asks Fohn. “It’s the most wonderful thing to be a part of. We get to surprise the recipients with a party at Hopdoddy, and we’ll decorate the restaurant in the theme of the wish.” The friends or family of the Wish Granters can request special menu items for the recipient. “If mac and cheese is their favorite food we’ll make it for them, or a birthday cake, or whatever they want. Our teams just get so excited about making these kids happy.”
Each wish costs approximately $9,000 and can range from college tuition assistance to a trip to Walt Disney World to meet the Disney princesses. One especially poignant party was for two brothers in Texas with cystic fibrosis. The younger one was off to Walt Disney World and the older one got to meet his favorite television personality, a famous treehouse designer. Dollar by dollar, those Goodnight/Good Cause burgers add up. “Our goal is to hit $1 million in charitable giving this year,” says Fohn.
More Than Burgers
Not a burger fan? No problem. Hopdoddy’s menu also features “burgers” using lamb, pork schnitzel, or sushi-grade ahi tuna in addition to traditional patties of Angus beef and American grass-fed Kobe. Menu items can vary by location: A new chicken menu at the College Station location features the Texas Free Ranger fried chicken sandwich and Y’all’s Chicken Salad, buttermilk fried chicken served with seasonal greens, heirloom cherry tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles, apple-smoked bacon, and more.
Meat-free options are the Impossible Burger (at select locations) and the La Bandita Burger—a black bean/corn patty with avocado, goat cheese, arugula, cilantro pesto, and chipotle mayo on whole wheat. Farm fresh salads, hand-cut fries, handcrafted milkshakes, Maine root sodas, fresh squeezed ginger-lemonade, local craft beers, and a full bar round out the menu.
Not confined to just burgers, customers can choose to add a dollar to any purchase as a donation. “That’s a very easy thing to do,” says Fohn. “We simply push a button in the computer and it adds a dollar [to the item], which then goes into the fund. We try to make it as easy as we can for our customers to give.”
Once again in 2017, Hopdoddy rose to the occasion when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. For the month of September, it was all hands on deck at every location, with the Goodnight/Good Cause Burger proceeds shifting to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, a Houston organization focused on supporting those affected by the killer storm and the massive flooding that followed. In addition, for two days that month at all locations, all sales from the Goodnight/Good Cause Burger ($8.25 to $9.25 each) were donated to the relief fund, along with a contribution from Tito’s Handmade Vodka of one dollar for every vodka beverage sold, up to $10,000.
Ongoing charitable partnerships involving five states and 22 locations is an enormous undertaking, but well worth the effort, says Fohn, who adds that the best part of her job is working with these groups. “We could stop at any time, but that’s not who we are. These guys [founders] are amazing and their hearts are in the right place. They know that Hopdoddy was born in this community for a reason. Part of that is giving back to some of these wonderful organizations, and that’s what we’re going to do.”