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A Family Affair: Smashburger to Open Wednesday

Smashburger, a franchise new to Orange County, is being run by a father-son team.

Ernie Sandoval is no stranger to the restaurant franchise world.

He's spent the last 28 years buying and selling around 25 McDonald's restaurants in San Diego.

"Burgers is what I do," he said.

Now Sandoval is living in San Clemente and teaching the business side of the kitchen to his youngest son, who has recently attended culinary arts school in San Francisco.

They plan to open the first of 20 Smashburger franchises in Mission Viejo inside the Mission Viejo Mall. They're shooting to have it open Wednesday, just in time for Black Friday crowds to give them a try.

They hope to open their second restaurant Dec. 5 in Aliso Viejo. Other locations are being planned for Fullerton, Irvine and San Clemente.

He expects to employ 35 at the Mission Viejo location and 45 at the Aliso Viejo spot.

"We’re giving jobs and that’s good," he said.

Here's an interview with Sandoval taken less than a week before his big endeavor is set to open:

Patch: What's it like being in the burger business?

Ernie Sandoval: We’re in the retail segment, but when it comes to food you’ve got to be good or you lose customers. It’s proven to be really good for me over the years.

Patch: How did you get into owning restaurants?

Sandoval: During my banking days I was introduced to McDonalds because they wanted a loan for remodeling. A few months later they convinced me to apply, and I found out about their leasing program. In 1983 I bought my first restaurant in Los Angeles. Then an opportunity in Oceanside. The rest is history.

I had about 15 restaurants in San Diego at one time. After 28 years, that’s a career. I had a great career in banking and a great career in McDonald’s.

Patch: Why do you want your son involved?

Sandoval: I wanted to show him the business, and how to open and operate from A to Z a restaurant before he goes and develops his own concept.

Patch: So what separates Smashburger from all the competition?

Sandoval: It’s 100-percent angus beef, never frozen, which we roll into a large meatball, then we smash it with a tool, we keep all the flavors and get a good sear on the meat.

Unlike Five Guys and some of these others, you will be served. Someone will serve your sandwich open-faced. And they’ll explain to you what’s in that sandwich. It becomes more of a different experience than a regular fastfood or fast casual. In this you’ll sit down, have a beer or soft drink or shake with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, and when you’re finished eating, we’ll take it away. You don’t have to remove your trash. We do that for you.

Patch: Why is it important for you that family is involved?

Sandoval: When the kids were small they always worked around McDonalds restaurants. My younger son loves cooking, he went to a real fine culinary restaurant in the bay area, and he said, 'Dad, you know this is what I want to do.' I said, 'OK, if you want to do food you’ve got to learn it, you’ve got to look for properties, negotiate leases, forcast what you think you’ll do in sales, you’ve got to hire people, train people. You’ve got to have a little skin in the game, and that is working it, seeing how it’s done.'

Patch: People love their burgers in Orange County. Are you ready for competition?

Sandoval: It is a good burger market. We’re excited about that.

There’s competition out there—the Habit, Fatburger, but we deliver a good quality product in a different fashion and I think they’ll notice that. A lady with her children will be comfortable knowing she’s eating fresh ingredients. I think we’re one or two steps above the competition in that respect.

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