Robin Karst (B.A., ’86) found herself back in Fort Collins 22 years after graduating from Colorado State University thanks to one heck-of-a-good hamburger made in Washington, D.C.
Robin grew up in a military family and moved around the country as a child. Her father had been an Air Force ROTC cadet at CSU and received his officer’s commission upon graduation in 1964. A decade later, he returned to CSU to complete a master’s degree.
Given these connections, it made sense for Robin to consider the U.S. Air Force Academy and CSU when it came time to choose a college. After arriving at the scenic Colorado Springs campus, she didn’t feel like the Academy was the perfect fit, so she applied to CSU.
But CSU wasn’t a second choice – it was the better choice. “It felt just like home,” Robin says, remembering the wide-open green spaces and welcoming atmosphere. Her family’s legacy on campus contributed greatly to that feeling.
Claudia Cushing Karst, her paternal great aunt, received a home economics degree from Colorado A&M in 1929. Her great uncle, Kenneth, earned his bachelor’s in electrical engineering a year later. Robin’s paternal grandfather, Kermit Karst, graduated in 1937 with a bachelor’s in animal husbandry and participated in a broad range of campus organizations, including the Livestock Club, stock judging team, Friendly Fourteen (where he served as president), Lambda Gamma Delta, and the Sunrise Battalion. Robin’s grandmother, Betty (Bascom) Karst, grew up in Fort Collins and participated just as widely before graduating in 1939. She was president of the Psychology Club, vice president of the Home Economics Club, president of Kappa Delta, freshman class secretary, and a sharpshooting member of the Pistol Team – among several other clubs and activities.
Robin’s older sister, Sherri (Karst) Eret, became the first member of the third generation of CSU alumni in the family when she graduated in the spring of 1986, followed by Robin herself that December and younger sister Christine in 1995. Sherri’s children Kevin, Travis, and Allison extended the legacy to four generations in the early-2010s.
Robin earned her marketing degree in three-and-a-half years while holding down two jobs. She was the “blue light special girl” at K-Mart and also worked at Batson Drugs, a Fort Collins pharmacy founded by John Perry Batson (B.A., ’43), a decorated World War II veteran who stormed Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion.
She maintained her work ethic after graduation, but the slumping Colorado economy curtailed early career ambitions. After brief stints at the Bennigan’s restaurant in Fort Collins and a May D&F department store in Denver, she pursued better opportunities in the D.C. area, where her father had just retired.
It was a smart move – she landed a front desk job at the Hyatt Hotel on Capitol Hill and began a 17-year career in the hospitality industry. Hyatt’s growth provided opportunities for advancement and the chance to expand a skillset that would be essential to future endeavors. She learned everything from contract writing and conflict resolution to event management and how to handle large-scale technical projects such as the installation of phone and keyless entry systems in new hotels.
After a decade with Hyatt and four years as director of sales at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, she became the director of sales for the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. Robin refined her customer service skills at the capital’s first five-star, five-diamond hotel for several years before a front-page story in the Washington Business Journal caught her eye.
During her Four Seasons tenure, Robin maintained two important habits: reading the Journal to identify potential hotel clients, and enjoying lunch at her long-time favorite D.C. eatery, Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
The first Five Guys location – a carry-out burger joint – opened in 1986 in Arlington, Virginia, after Jerry and Janie Murrell advised their sons to either “start a business or go to college.”
The family’s hand-formed burgers made to perfection on a grill along with fresh-cut fries cooked in pure peanut oil became a D.C.-area phenomenon with a cult-like following that included a number of burger-loving potential entrepreneurs.
Robin was one of them. The Murrells had expanded the business to six locations by 2002, when she read the news she had been hoping for: “Five Guys to Franchise.”
Robin talked to her family that night and then called Five Guys’ franchise development guru Mark Moseley, an ex-Washington Redskins kicker, the next day. Later, she met Jerry Murell, who joked about importing the lavish Four Seasons aesthetic. “I’ll sell you a franchise,” he said, “but you can’t put flowers on the tables.”
Robin invested all she had into franchise rights for southern Maryland. It was a gamble, but Robin refused to see it that way. “I didn’t look at it as risky,” she says. “I believed in the product. It’s the best hamburger and they have a simple menu based on quality options, not quantity. If I worked hard, I knew it would be successful.”
She opened her first store in 2005 and worked there as the general manager. Her faith in the product continued to grow as the company sold franchise rights outward from its original territory to the rest of the East Coast, and then the rest of the country and the world.
Robin jumped at the chance to return to her home state when the northern Colorado territory became available. She bought the rights to build 8 stores and opened Colorado’s first Five Guys restaurant on Elizabeth Street just west of the CSU campus in 2008. Twenty-two years after she had left Fort Collins, she was home.
This time around, Robin created her own business opportunities. After she opened two stores in Fort Collins and one in Longmont, she sold the southern Maryland locations so she could focus full time on Colorado. Since then, she has opened three additional stores in Broomfield and Boulder. Recently, the second location in Fort Collins hit its 10-year anniversary and Robin was able to relocate this store to a better location in the same shopping center.
Robin’s sister, Sherri, manages the finances for all six locations out of a Broomfield office, and Robin’s parents have returned to Colorado too, a fitting continuation of a Karst family legacy rooted in CSU.