The past two years have been a tough road to hoe for many in the restaurant industry - the recession has taken people out of the seats and dollars out of the cash registers for many foodservice establishments.

But don’t tell the folks at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, The National Provisioner’s 2010 Foodservice Operator of the Year, that the recession has been challenging. With a self-proclaimed corporate strategy focused on keeping things simple, Five Guys has grown tremendously over the past two years - with no plan to stop.

According to information obtained by The National Provisioner from Five Guys’ Web site and through a late February phone call with Molly Catalano, director of communications for Five Guys, the chain opened more than 175 new units in 2009 and planned to open more than 200 new units in 2010.

That plan was well on its way, as evidenced by Five Guys’ communication efforts to consumers via its Twitter and Facebook pages, through which each new restaurant’s opening is announced. In the month of March 2010, Five Guys pitched 18 different grand openings across the country to its followers and fans.

This is not a rebound strategy, however. Catalano told the Trib Local newspaper of Schaumburg, Ill., that the company has made a stronger national push to expand over the last two years, during an interview in conjunction with the March 8, 2010, opening of a new location in Schaumburg.

“We have not been as affected because of what we serve,” Catalano told Trib Local. “It has been helpful in some ways for us. We are expanding when most are not, so we are able to find better locations.”

As such, Five Guys now has more than 560 locations in 35 states - up from only five locations in 2002. Indeed, this kind of expansion during a rough economic slump alone would warrant accolades. But what makes Five Guys’ story more intriguing is its marketing strategy - Catalano confirms what consumers may have noticed: Five Guys spends little to nothing on advertising.

The company’s strategy of word-of-mouth advertising has worked wonders, and the advent of social media seems to fit into that method quite well. Sure, the number of followers of Five Guys on Twitter (4,796 at presstime) and fans on Facebook (213,898 at presstime) might pale in comparison to some of the established, top-dog brands out there, but how many of those top-dog brands have a “Fanatics” section on their Web site?

This tells new consumers that people who already love Five Guys likely are crazy about the brand. That only builds the reputation as more people hear about and try the burgers and fries at Five Guys. Odds are if there isn’t one in your neighborhood, at this pace, there soon will be.