Big Boy’s branching out. The restaurant chain, headquarted in Warren, chose Ann Arbor to launch a prototype restaurant that, if successful, could go national. It’s called @Burger, and it opened in late July in the McKinley Towne Centre on Liberty.

Its burgers are nothing like Big Boy’s. “I hesitate to call them gourmet burgers because of the toppings it conjures,” says Big Boy senior vice president of operations Dick Sveum. “This is a classic, true, burger lover’s burger. We use Velveeta as a cheese. We use thick-cut bacon. But there’s not dried cranberries. Where some of the new burger chains that are popping up are using ingredients that are more gourmet, we just went straight toward freshness.”

Vice president of marketing David Crawford adds, “If you look at the concept, it’s just geared around a fresh, made-for-you-burger.” That means every burger is grilled to order using a proprietary blend of meat developed especially for @Burger that’s always fresh, never frozen. Bread and buns are baked in-house, and vegetable oil is used in the fryers instead of animal fat. “Those are the things you do when you do business in Ann Arbor,” Crawford notes. Their target customer is what Crawford calls a burger buff–a person who loves a good burger, chips, and fries. “Ann Arbor has the right demographic for it, with the school, and all the neat businesses,” says Crawford. “That’s the market we identified as being one of the best in the area. I don’t even think there was a close second.”

@Burger’s menu lists eight signature burgers, like the $8 BBQ Bacon Velveeta burger, and the Trash Can, a $10 burger topped with a fried egg, Velveeta, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno and banana peppers, potato chips, fried onion straws, red onions, the house red relish, pickles, tomatoes, mayo and shredded lettuce. Or you can go choose your own top-pings. @Burger also has salads and a variety of sides like nachos and fries.

Unlike Big Boy, a sit-down family restaurant, @Burger doesn’t offer table service. Customers order at the counter, and the food’s brought to their table. There’s also outdoor seating in the alley next door. If all goes well, Big Boy plans to open more @Burgers, but as for how soon that will happen, Sveum says, “That’s yet to be decided. This is the first step, but we’ve got to get the concept right. There’s some tweaking we need to do, but overall we’re off to a great start.”

@Burger, 505 E. Liberty. 222-8440. Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

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