Is restaurant-industry entrepreneurism fading? Earlier this month, I reported on research from UK firm Horizons that concluded a decline in entrepreneurial activity there has followed the “Brexit” vote to split with the European Union. We don’t have such an economic turning point here, but entrepreneurial activity, at least in the burger segment, has slowed in the second half of 2016.
On July 1, I covered the 22 new burger concepts that had opened in the first half of this year. In the second half (although I grant there’s a full month to go), I’ve seen just 15 [see Addendum at end] new concepts open (and a few are outside the U.S.). That’s less than half the 32 new burger brands that opened in the second half of 2015, as reported here.
Established brands are expanding, certainly. Burger 21, BurgerFi, Bagger Dave’s, Hopdoddy’s, Elevation Burger, Shake Shack, Smashburger and many others continue to open additional stores and markets. But fewer new, first-location brands seem to be coming into the marketplace. Has the burger category lost its luster, is there no capital for entrepreneurship or have investors been waiting for a post-election settling of an uneasy economy?
The second-half openings are an interesting mix of retro, small-menu concepts and sophisticated burger & spirits bars. Organic ingredients have diminished, but top quality remains a must. Many of these concepts have menus that boast more than burgers (hot dogs, chicken, etc.), and there are fewer build-your-own-burger concepts than a year ago. Give a look and see who your newest competitors are and what they’re offering.
Aïoli Gourmet Burgers, Phoenix
Aioli started with one truck that became three. Keeping the trucks, it morphed into a full catering company before opening its first brick-and-mortar location. The has seven burgers, including the $9 Italiano Burger with fresh mozzarella, tomato, balsamic reduction, pancetta and garlic-bail aïoli.
Broad Street Burger Co., Statesville, N.C.
Owners Jason Cole and Andrea Chadwick—who own the town’s Twisted Oak American Bar & Grill and Unwined Bar & Eatery—look to open their burger concept in December. The menu: craft burgers (signature and BYO), hot dogs, brats and more. The restaurant sports a full bar and North Carolina craft beers on draft.
BuckinBurger, Newark, Ohio
A one-time food truck concept in Zanesville, Ohio, gone brick-and-mortar in central Ohio. Build your own burger or choose from among eight signatures. The $10.99 Big BuckinBurger boasts triple beef, cheese and bacon, with house sauce.
Butcher Burgers, Westfield, N.J.
Having opened a French bistro, Amuse, in 2014, chef-restaurateur C.J. Reycraft, Jr. changed focus this year with Butcher Burgers. The 13 upscale signature burgers range from the $11 Plain Jane burger to the $27 Surf and Turf with an 8-oz. Kobe beef patty, crayfish, cilantro-lime mayo and butter lettuce on a butter-top roll.
Central Burger, Caldwell, N.J.
Milkshakes—including the S’mores and Peanut Butter Cup shakes—star at this burgers-and-fries shop. The menu has 11 burger choices, including The Southerner ($11) with Cheddar, bacon, fried green tomato and bourbon-bacon jam.
CHARburger, Fresno, Calif.
An old-school operation that sells burgers, smothered tots, fries and shakes with fast service.
Filthy Gorgeous, Aberdeen, Scotland
Opened n the former site of Boozy Cow, Filthy Gorgeous sports the year’s best mission statement: “We were going to open a healthy food joint but then we realised that is boring and nobody would come and visit us, so instead we went for juicy hand formed patty burgers, topped with all forms of nonsense including but not restricted to baconnaise, frazzles, kimchi and cheese fondue.” Burgers include the Kim Jong-Un (bulgogi glazed, applewood-smoked cheese, kimchi mayo & ssamjang sauce) and the Billionaires Bacon (beer cheese sauce, maple syrup, buffalo pretzel pieces and pickled banana chillies with a shot of bacon-laced Jack). Brunch and delivery are offered.
Frankie’s, Batley Carr, West Yorkshire, England
Yet another burger joint positioning itself as “gourmet fast food,” Frankie’s serves grass-fed halal beef and halal free-range chicken, with gluten-free and vegan options. The limited menu has three beef and three chicken burgers.
Fresh Burger, Greenville, S.C.
Just open, Fresh Burger lives up to its name with never-frozen, hand-pattied burgers. The menu also includes chicken sandwiches and strips, hot dogs, salads, wraps and wings. Catering is offered and additional locations are planned.
Manny’s Cowboy Burgers, Rio Rico, Ariz.
Manny Ortiz and his wife, Joni Clarke-Ortiz, opened this strip-mall burger joint because they have grandchildren in nearby schools and they want to be part of the community. The $7.89 signature Manny’s Cowboy burger is a third-pound custom-blended steak patty with lettuce, tomato and onion on a brioche bun.
‘Merica, New York City
The self-styled “most American bar and restaurant in the world” has fun with American culture (including a “Chuck Week” salute to Chuck Norris). The $12 Classic ‘Merica Burger is a half-pound beef patty with American, pepper-Jack or Swiss cheese; tomato, onion and sweet pickle chips. It’s served on a toasted bun brushed with honey-garlic butter and spread with signature sriracha mayo
Slam Burger, Petaluma, Calif.
Opening Dec. 2, 2016. Offering sustainable, natural products that include ground beef and beef dogs that are organic non-GMO; non-GMO and grass-fed chicken & turkey; grass-fed lamb and wild ahi tuna. Pickles, sauces and dressings are all house-made. Beverages include organic milk shakes, wine and local beers. The $13 Lamb Slam is grass-fed lamb, red leaf lettuce, house-made tzatziki and chimichurri sauces, house-pickled red onion, house-made harissa and pickles.
Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar, Tacoma, Wash.
Stack 571 is serious about both parts of its name. The food menu has 10 half-pound burgers plus a Burger of the Month. The bar menu offers more than 100 whiskies. The $9.95 Báhn Mi Burger is a beef 7 bacon patty topped with pickled daikon radish & Carrot slaw, jalapeňo, cilantro and spicy aïoli.
Ume Burger, Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia
Chef Kirby Craig’ Japanese burger and bar food shop is a sister concept to the more formal Bar Ume. The $14.80 Menchi Burger has house-made pork katsu, mild mustard, tonkatsu sauce, mayo, Spanish onion and shredded cabbage.
Zane Burger, Bellingham, Wash.
A retro-diner look and a menu that encompasses third-pound grass-fed Angus beef burgers, chili cheeseburgers ($3.69) with house-made chili, beef and pork hot dogs, Polish sausage and more. There are shakes, sure, but also craft beers on draft and wine.
ADDENDUM: The good news is that the burger category is more vibrant than I initially gave it credit for being. The bad news is that I know that because I neglected many openings. Some that have been brought to my attention:
155 Fahrenheit, Montreal
The Burger Shop Co., Arundel, West Sussex, England
Caveman Burgers, Phoenix
D.M. Prime Burgers, Lake in the Hills, Ill.
FM Burger, Houston
Fifty Burger, Salida, Calif.
Full Moon Burger & Bar, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Gabuto Burger, Rolling Meadows, Ill.
Griddle & Shake, Nottingham, England
Smoke the Burger Joint, North Canton, Ohio
TNT Burger LLC, Warwick. N.Y.
Truland Burgers & Greens, Tucson