In each of the last three years, Michael Symon has won The People’s Choice Award for top burger at the Burger Bash held during the annual Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival. He’ll defend that title at this year’s event, which begins Friday (2/22). When not competing, he operates four B Spot burger joints plus the Lola, Lolita and Roast restaurants; he’s “Iron Chef America” on Food Network; and he’s a co-host of ABC’s “The Chew.” BurgerBusiness.com spoke with Symon as he prepared for his busy weekend.
Are you ready for the Burger Bash?
Yeah, that goes this Friday. We’re doing a custom burger for the Bash that we’ll put on the [B Spot] menu when we get back. It’s going to be a French Onion Burger. It gets Colman’s hot mustard, then a bacon-and-caramelized-onion relish, the burger patty and Gruyère-horseradish fondue. And then it’s topped with crunchy onions.
Oh, it is pretty damn good.
Are you feeling the pressure with three consecutive Bash wins behind you?
No, not really. We’ve won three in a row; we’re happy with three in a row. I think this year’s burger is our best one so far, but I say that every year.
Last year you won with The Porky, with ground pork, pulled pork, bacon slaw and barbecue sauce. You’re confident the French Onion can give you a fourth title?
I really like the burger we’ll be making. But there are about 40 great chefs and burger places who are participating [see list] so obviously it could go any of a million ways. We’ll see.
You’ve made some changes at B Spot this month. You’ve added a build-your-own-burger menu option, added a new kids menu, offered call-ahead seating. Business must be good.
Yeah, we’ve made a couple of changes. But, you know, we’ve been open now about four years and you want to add new things. We got requests all the time for build your own, build your own, build your own. And really, it was a relatively easy change for us to make. And only about 10% of orders coming into the kitchen are BYO. So it was easy enough to do and that 10% of people who want BYO is very happy.
So you didn’t really change the core B Spot concept.
No, not at all. Fortunately, our staff’s pretty educated: if they hear someone wanting to put something really wonky together, they’ll let them know that that’s not such a great idea. We’re a couple of weeks into the changes and it seems to be working out great.
You added a new burger, too. The Atomic.
We try to take and add burgers every so often, and then there’s a Burger of the Week special, too. But we’d been getting tons of requests for something spicy. I thought we had some spicy stuff but the fireheads out there, they wanted something extra juiced up. So we’re making the Atomic with dried ghost-pepper powder, smoked-habanero hot sauce, jalapeňos, red onion, pepper Jack cheese and cilantro.
Well that must take your head off.
Yeah, it’s got a pretty good wham to it. But it’s still delicious. If you like spicy, it’ll fill the bill, but it has great flavors, too. It’s not just a rip-your-head-off burger.
With all that you’ve got going, do you have time to dream up the new burgers for the menu?
I try to. It’s me and Derek Clayton, our corporate chef, and Matt Harlan, corporate chef for all the B Spots, who do it. Pretty much everything for B Spot comes from the three of us as a team.
You have four B Spot locations now. Are you planning to keep new openings going?
Oh yeah. We’re always looking for locations. We’re looking outside Cleveland now. We have the four in Cleveland, plus one [at Quicken Loans Arena] where the Cavs play and the one at Browns Stadium. We’re looking pretty aggressively at Detroit; Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh right now.
You have Roast restaurant at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit hotel. I was happy to see that you slipped the Symon Burger with fried bologna and pickles onto the bar menu there.
Yeah, Roast is killing it, so Detroit is an area that we know pretty well now. We’re scouting a couple of locations there very heavily.
B Spot’s been open for four years, as you say. Since then it’s been burgermania. Does it surprise you how many other burger-menu restaurants have opened everywhere?
Yeah, a little, but at the end of the day everyone loves burgers. I think the market can take a good amount of burger joints. And it’s like with anything else: The good ones will continue to blossom and the others will fall by the wayside.