PINOLE -- The city is fast becoming a regional hot spot for trendy burger franchises, with the opening last week of Five Guys Burgers and Fries in the Pinole Valley Shopping Center.
The Virginia-based chain joins California-based In-N-Out Burger, which has been doing brisk business on Fitzgerald Drive since 1997. The two share at least one regular customer in Catherine Kelly of Tijeras, N.M., who grew up in Richmond.
She was at the new Five Guys on Sunday with family members who now reside in Pinole.
Kelly is a fan of both In-N-Out and Five Guys.
"They're two different experiences," she said. "I wouldn't trade one for the other."
She has sampled In-N-Out as far east as King of Prussia, Pa., and Five Guys as far west as Kingman, Ariz. -- until Sunday. Five Guys also is popular in Southern California.
In-N-Out is more about the original burger, Kelly said, while Five Guys offers more mix-and-match choices to craft your own personal burger.
Pinole also has McDonald's, Burger King, Jack-in-the-Box, Carl's Jr. and Wendy's, among national burger chains. More regionally, it has the Original Mels and the Original Red Onion; the latter is about 500 feet from the new Five Guys.
Early last year, residents warned that competition from Five Guys would spell doom for Red Onion, a longtime local business. In February 2012, the City Council, in a largely symbolic gesture, voted 5-0 to oppose a lease with Five Guys.
At the time, the city still owned the Pinole Valley shopping center land; under a ground lease with operator The Kivelstadt Group, the city had to ratify TKG's tenant choices but could not unreasonably withhold consent.
The city, meanwhile, sold the shopping center to TKG; the closing was in May 2012.
Red Onion owner Johnny Yee was not at his Pinole restaurant Wednesday and could not be located at his other Red Onion restaurants in Alameda and Vallejo.
City officials last year also pledged to look into whether a Five Guys burger shop would create traffic and parking problems at Pinole Valley Shopping Center, which is near the offramp of eastbound Interstate 80 and where traffic entering the shopping center sometimes backs up into Pinole Valley Road. The center also has a Trader Joe's, Walgreens, Peet's Coffee, Jamba Juice and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Pinole Planning Manager Winston Rhodes last week said there is no parking shortage at the center, just a parking management problem at certain times and days -- an example being when parents wait in the shopping center parking lot for nearby Pinole Valley High School to let out, he said.
Not that the city could do much if there were a parking problem, Rhodes conceded. In 2006, the city granted TKG a parking variance at the shopping center, from 392 parking spaces to 300; there are actually 309. The variance is in perpetuity, and unlike a conditional use permit, cannot be revisited periodically, he said.
Burgers and fast food in general are an important sector of Pinole's economy, officials say. Five Guys alone has about 40 local part-time employees, Rhodes said.
Fast food generates about $450,000 a year in sales tax for the city, said Pinole Finance Director Richard Loomis.
Over on Fitzgerald Drive on Sunday, a quick sampling of people entering and leaving In-N-Out yielded only a handful who knew about Five Guys -- and most were employees of In-N-Out.
Abjaila Steward was at In-N-Out to drop off a friend who works there, she said, but not to dine. Her favorite hamburger joint, she said, is Nation's Giant Hamburgers in nearby Tara Hills.