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Expansion’s on the front burner for Blake’s hamburger chain

A new Blake's Lotaburger has opened at 8641 Golf Course Road NW on Tuesday, June 18, 2013.   The lighted sign is an updated version incorporating the Lotaman figure.
A new Blake's Lotaburger has opened at 8641 Golf Course Road NW on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. The lighted sign is an updated version incorporating the Lotaman figure.
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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Lotaburger has a lot of activity going on these days.

The ubiquitous New Mexico hamburger chain is expanding and plans to be in El Paso by the end of this year.

Blake’s Lobaturger has also initiated some “strategic repositioning,” recently closing a store near Kirtland Air Force Base to open a new one on Albuquerque’s West Side.

In addition, the 61-year-old brand is getting a fresh look.

“It’s very exciting what we’re doing right now,” said Craig Wood, Lotaburger’s business development manager. “… We’re really branching out.”

Blake’s expects to open its first Texas location this fall on El Paso’s West Side and to continue adding stores in that area. Wood said El Paso represents a natural progression for the chain.

“It’s a market we’re excited to be in,” he said. “It’s a big market, and we think people in El Paso will take to us very well.”

Blake’s currently has 76 locations, all in New Mexico. They are spread among more than 25 communities.

The store count briefly dipped when the Gibson SE location recently shuttered, but it quickly rebounded when a new Blake’s opened last week at 8641 Golf Course NW in an old Carl’s Jr.

Such repositioning will continue alongside expansion, Wood said. He could not say exactly how many stores the company hopes to reach, only that fans should “keep an eye on (Blake’s)” for the next few years.

“What we hope to do is put a location where it’s needed and where it’s wanted,” he said, noting that all Blake’s will continue to be company-owned.

For a glimpse into the Blake’s future, check out the inside of the Golf Course store.

That restaurant’s lobby will serve as something of a blueprint moving forward and also for remodels gradually taking place at existing sites, Wood said.

Interior walls have a swirled texture; pear-shaped light fixtures dangle above tables; and brushed aluminum panels serve as the backdrop to the soda machine. Chairs have a flat silver finish and red seats, while a darker fabric cushions the back of new fiberglass booths.

It’s still a burger-joint atmosphere, and it’s still most definitely a Blake’s – see the vintage photos on the wall – but Wood said it’s more inviting and modern.

Perhaps the most cutting-edge touch is the digital menu board with graphics and calorie counts. (FYI: Lota Combo checks in at 1,200 calories.) The boards are still in something of a test phase but should eventually reach existing stores during the remodeling process, Wood said.

Despite the changes, some things remain sacrosanct at Blake’s: That smiley guy in the patriotic outfit – “Lotaman” – remains the face of the brand, and nothing is changing in the kitchen.

“The biggest thing that we didn’t touch and we never will touch is exactly how we make our food,” Wood said. “We will keep our food. Everybody loves it the way it is, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

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