Hungry guinea pigs—also known as college students—made history Thursday as they stood in line at Johnny Rockets' debut college food outlet.
The retro burger, fries and shakes chain, based on the West Coast, rolled out its first-ever college campus eatery Sept. 15 at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway.
The opening featured free samples and a visit from the chain's chief executive officer and president, John Fuller.
While Fuller admits the chain's food is on the higher end of the calorie scale, he said almost every college now offers a burger, fries and shake option, and his company had worked worked more than three years to get a foothold in the college market.
Fuller hopes to see a Johnny Rockets on every campus that their operating partner, Chartwells, operates. That's 500 additional locations.
The company, which is growing at 10-15 percent a year, pared down its usual menu to just a few items and added breakfast at Chartwell's request.
Fuller said burgers, fries and shakes outlets are a "core staple" on college campuses.
Chelsea Johnson, for one, didn't give calories much consideration before getting in line.
"They have really good hot dogs. I'm not thinking about calories, just what I want to eat," said the student from Washington Township in Gloucester County.
Fuller plans to use the Stockton outlet as a template for expansion on college campuses nationwide—the second college location opens at Oklahoma State University in three weeks.
Fuller is no stranger to South Jersey.
The self-described bean counter spent time last October working as a food runner at a Johnny Rockets outlet at Showboat Atlantic City and also several other Johnny Rockets locations around the country as part of the reality television show Undercover Boss.
No one he worked with at those locations knew Fuller ran the chain.
In the Atlantic City segment, local Tony Yoder tried—without much success—to show Fuller how to make the chain's signature smiley face drawn with ketchup, as well as counseling Fuller on how to handle customers.
Yoder also shared some details of his hard-luck life, including living under the Atlantic City Boardwalk and the murder of his daughter, Toni Nicole Yoder.
The 14-year-old Nikki Yoder, as her friends called her, disappeared from her grandmother's house in Egg Harbor Township in August 2003. Her remains, found partially submerged in a nearby creek, were identified the following March.
At the end of the Undercover Boss segment, Fuller revealed his identity and rewarded his company's employees. Fuller offered to pay Yoder's rent for a year.
Yoder is no longer employed at the Showboat outlet.