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Smashburger CEO Dave Prokupek on the company's top rank in Forbes...and its new double cheeseburger

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When Forbes recently released its list of 100 rising star companies in 22 industries, "privately held up-and-comers with compelling business models, strong management teams, notable customers, strategic partners and precious investment capital," exactly one restaurant company made the cut. And Colorado's very own Smashburger didn't just make the list; it snagged first place as the most promising company in America.

"They said they were doing a story about promising companies, but in terms of winning, it was a really nice surprise," says Smashburger CEO and founder Dave Prokupek.

What did Smashburger do right? "Food, growth and execution is what Forbes pointed to," Prokupek explains. "The sum of those three things together propelled us to the top."

Indeed, Forbes cited Smashburger's explosive growth and climbing revenues. "In the midst of a severe recession his Denver company will have grown to 143 locations (half company-owned, half franchised) and $54 million in annual revenue by the end of 2011," wrote J.J. Colao, who penned the profile of the winner. "Another 450 franchise agreements are already on the books." The article went on to credit the food, design, service and fast-casual model that Smashburger has perfected in just four short years, a pretty remarkable performance considering the number of burger chains it's competing against.

"A lot of people are continuing to go after this better-burger segment," says Prokupek. "You have many boutique concepts and many concepts, like Wendy's, integrating some of what we do. But it's really been us and [Washington, D.C.-based] Five Guys; we're the fast growers. And our strategy has been to establish ourselves as the clear leader."

Still, Smashburger continues to work to differentiate itself from competitors, concentrating on new items and food quality across the board. The Denver locations, for instance, will begin testing a double cheeseburger this week; the chain has also added truffle parmesan fries. "We've added chicken, which is a big growing category for us," Prokupek notes. "Plus new sides and new iced tea. We keep pushing the bar higher on the quality of the food."

That should help the company as it expands beyond the United States. "We'll open sixty to eighty restaurants next year," he says. "We're set to go to Canada and the Middle East."

And while the company shows no signs of slowing down, the Forbes designation does add some pressure. "It's always a little scary to get an award like this," Prokupek acknowledges. "You don't want to screw it up."

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