Competing with the big burger chains “can be like battling the Mafia,” says Spike Mendelsohn, chef-owner of Washington. D.C.’s Good Stuff Eatery, which is itself about to become a chain. Spike isn’t suggesting McDonald’s or Burger King want him to sleep with the fishes, “it’s just that they’re so powerful and they’ve given burgers a bad name” that he intends to reverse.
Appearing at the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago in conjunction with a “Make Your Restaurant Shine” promotion for Dawn Professional, Spike says burgers have seen resurgence in popularity but not in reputation, unfortunately. “They have this unhealthy image and it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not bad to have a burger. It really isn’t,” he told BurgerBusiness.com. “People say they’re more interested in knowing about what they’re eating, about demanding higher quality and that’s one of the great things about burgers: they’re simple. You can tell if the quality’s there. We [at Good Stuff Eatery] built our brand on being farm fresh. The meat, lettuce, tomato, the onion, the bun, all fresh, all pure good food. There’s nothing wrong with any of that.”
Because quality is a cornerstone of the Good Stuff Eatery brand he has created, Mendelsohn says he’s not concerned about entrusting his brand to others through franchising. “It’s not going to be franchising where someone gives me $500,000 and I let them have my name and walk away,” he says. “It’ll be a more carefully controlled licensing arrangement where I’ll still be involved. This is family; it’s personal. I’ve had lots of offers to license my name for all kinds of things. And that can sound good, you know? But I always said no.”
The strategic question of whether to stay close to home and develop more Good Stuff Eatery locations just in and around D.C. or to also allow the brand to go wherever in the county all the essential elements (partner, location, capital) are in place still is being debated. Mendelsohn says the Good Stuff Eatery concept remains much as it was when he opened it two years ago with the exception of its expanded milkshake selection. Future openings’ layouts will allow a shake bar to be featured. “I underestimated how popular and profitable shakes would be,” he says.
And while he also has opened New York-style pizzeria We, the Pizza next door to Good Stuff Eatery, his heart still belongs to burgers. “Burgers have ups but they don’t have downs. There’s never a time when people don’t like burgers.”
Recipes for many of his burger creations are included in his new “The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, Fries, Shakes, Wedges and More” (Wiley). So what is Spike thinking about for his next new burger? “We play around with textures and sauces. I’m thinking of creating a steak sauce; something A.1.-ish with a lot of flavor,” he says. “Or a pastrami burger. Pastrami is the new bacon.”
[The recipe for Spike’s “Michelle Melt” Turkey Burger favored by the First Lady is provided here on mindbodygreen.com.]