Soon to turn 5 years old, bd's Mongolian Grill at Hamburg has distinguished itself in its nationwide chain — rising to eighth in sales — by being what its management calls a "destination place."
The restaurant offers a bar with specialty drinks and $2 beers, kids' nights, live music on Tuesdays, karaoke on Wednesdays and guest grilling fund-raisers, said general manager Matt Tuminski. Its core offering is a stir-fry bar packed with all the meats, seafood, veggies, sauces and spices to fit anyone's tastes.
The restaurant along Sir Barton Way saw the 35-store chain's largest annual sales growth last year at 16 percent, said bd's chain spokeswoman Alicia Aldrich.
Tuminski was also named general manager of the year for the chain in 2010.
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A $1 beer offering originated at the Lexington bd's and spread to other locations nationwide. As of May 2, though, the price has risen to $2.
"The dollar beer was a great marketing tool for us," Tuminski said. "It generated a lot of new customers for the restaurant."
He said some patrons were upset about the price increase, but not the regular customers, many of whom visit daily. The ingredients to the restaurant's success are its promotions, family-friendly atmosphere and community involvement, Tuminski said.
"We are a high-energy, fun destination place where you can come and get great food which you're in control of making," he said, "and you're going to have fun doing it — you're not just waiting for someone to bring the food to you."
Much of that energy comes from the cooks behind the grill who do tricks with "swords," which are used in place of spatulas or tongs, for onlooking customers.
The swords are an homage to the "Mongolian barbecue" started by Genghis Khan and his troops as they tried to conquer China. According to one tale, they would heat meat and vegetables on their shields. Here, the shield is a giant round steel grill manned by people with the giant metal "swords."
Andrew Taylor, who has worked the grill at bd's for eight months, said it's the best job he's ever had. He's using it to prepare for culinary school in New York.
He tries to have fun with customers and fellow employees, which is easy with all the sword-flipping, singing and dancing that takes place around the grill.
"It's entertainment — customers love it and love to see us," Taylor said, adding he has a lot of regular customers.
Tuminski said many new customers visit the restaurant through its guest griller fund-raising program, in which organizations can sign up to get behind the grill as a unique way to raise money.
Guest grilling takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 10 percent of total store sales during that time, as well as any tips generated at the grill and donations made at the front of the restaurant, go to the organization. Some nights guest grillers alone bring in more than 200 customers, Tuminski said.
"Our guest grilling program is an awesome way for us to give back to the community," he said.
The restaurant also builds a community relationship by having "a very good rapport with people" throughout the restaurant, Tuminski said.
David Lockard of Lexington said he likes the fun atmosphere and variety of the food at bd's.
"That's what drew me in here — the food," he said. "What keeps me coming back is the friendly people."
He said that besides picking his own food, he likes the different seasonal offerings.
"They switch up the grill food every now and then," Lockard said. "It's never the same."
The store's Summer Fiesta program, which runs through Aug. 21, offers food and drinks with a Mexican flavor, such as cilantro lime shrimp and the CervezaRita. The latter is a margarita mixed with a Dos Equis beer, complete with the Mexican beer's bottle stuck upside down into the glass.
"Our success is based on the excitement and the energy that we bring to the table every day," Tuminski said. "It's just a fun experience.
"We're totally based on selling an experience to our customers."