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WesBurger: From Pop-Up to Prime Site

Filed under Burger Bar, Q&A, Q&A

For two years, Wes Rowe has been serving burgers at WesBurger, a pop-up open every Wednesday in San Francisco’s Mojo Bicycle Cafe. But in less than two months, Rowe will move from pop-up to bricks-and-mortar with the opening of the WesBurger n’ More restaurant on the city’s busy Mission Street. Wes Rowe spoke with about his burgers and his plans.

Are you still on track for a spring opening?
We are. We’re looking at opening in March; possibly even on the first of March if everything goes smoothly. It’s gone great so far. There were a few hiccups at the beginning but we’re rocking and rolling.

Did you train as a chef?
No, I didn’t come into this with any culinary background but I worked as a food photographer. Through that, I met a lot of chefs, and they encouraged me to do pop-ups.

After I’d done just a few, I was invited to the San Francisco Burger Brawl competition in 2013. I showed up there with some friends and we had a couple of cardboard boxes of stuff. And there were all these professionals around us with baker’s racks and signage and all. We figured we didn’t stand a chance so we just tried to have fun, but we ended up winning the burger competition. And really it has all snowballed from there.

That led to the gig at Mojo Bicycle Cafe?
Yeah, I’ve been doing that on a weekly basis [every Wednesday] since then. And then through that I started doing some consulting, helping people with menus. That led me to Chris Hastings [owner of San Francisco’s popular Lookout bar] who offered, with no strings attached, to help me start a business.

We started talking about it and once we decided we had a viable concept and business model and the financials worked out, he became a partner with me. He’s been incredibly helpful. I think I have pretty good instincts when it comes to food: People generally seem to like what I make. But he’s experienced in running a restaurant. It would have taken me a lot longer to do this without Chris.

Do you do just one burger at Mojo?
I do a burger and tots and things. I change the burger build every week, but I keep the patty and the bun the same. It’s a ground-brisket burger.

The Hot Wes Burger

The Hot Wes Burger

Will that continue at the new restaurant?

What else will be on the menu?
Well, after doing the burger pop-up for a while and enjoying that, I started a different pop-up [not at Mojo Bicycle Club] too, but with fried chicken. It was the same formula: Doing a different fried chicken recipe every week for awhile. It was an exploration of regional styles of fried chicken. The more I got into it, the more I found there are just tons of variations. I never exhausted the possibilities.

So one week I’d do American Southern fried chicken with greens and grits, and the next I’d do General Tso’s fried chicken with fried rice. I explored a lot not just in chicken styles but in sides I’d pair with chicken.

And that’s where the “n’ More” in the name comes in. I’m bringing the fried chicken. And I’m originally from Texas so I love barbecue. We got a smoker and I’m going to be doing barbecue in limited runs. It’s important to me that barbecue is really fresh. So I’ll try it for maybe a few hours a day and maybe a few days during the week and see how that matches with demand.

How many burgers will be available?
A couple. One will be a traditional all-American burger: lettuce, tomato and bacon. Another is inspired by the Hot Mess Burger that Jack in the Box did a few years back [in 2013]. It was onion rings, pepper-Jack cheese sauce and pickled jalapeňos on sourdough. I loved it but I said I could recreate it even better. So my cheese sauce is Texas-style queso cheese with house-made onion rings and pickled jalapeňos. It’s just a trifecta of awesome. Creamy, rich cheese; crunch onion rings; vinegary, hot pickled jalapeňos. I give all credit for it to Jack in the Box.


The All-American Burger

What’s the name?
I call it the Hot Wes Burger. I did it every couple of months [at Mojo Bicycle Cafe] and people love it. So that’ll be on the menu with a few others. But like the pop-up, I’ll do a special burger every week. We’ll do the same with chicken, and you can get it as a sandwich, a plate or a bucket. There will be two, maybe three, styles available on the menu and then a weekly chicken special.

I’ve always had lots of regular customers, so it’s important to keep things fresh. And now that I’ll be there working every day, I’ll want different food myself! I’ll make all sorts of different food, but it’ll all fall in line with my aesthetic. The restaurant will be fun but traditional; sort of a classic diner vibe.

What’s you pricing on burgers?
Right now it’s $11.

Can that hold until the March opening?
I’m sure it can. With the restaurant I’ll be able to order more in bulk so there’s less waste than when I’m doing it just once a week. My costs will even out as I look at making things I can sell over two or three days rather than trying to sell out in three hours.

Full bar?
Beer and wine to start off. I have some friends in the beer business so we’ll have some really rad beers. Some hard to get, small-batch stuff. And we’ll have cheap bottles of Lone Star beer [from Texas]. Love it. And then a small but judicious selection of wines that pair well with the kind of food I do.

In anticipation of the opening, what are you most excited about?
Mission Street is a major street in San Francisco. It goes from the water and the bay all the way to Daly City, Calif. This location we got [2240 Mission Street] is freaking fantastic. That’s one reason we jumped on it immediately. It’s my neighborhood. I like that I’m going to put a neon sign above the door and make my mark on Mission Street a little bit. That’s great.

But I’m also excited about having a place where people can come every day; where I don’t have to say to people, “Remember to come on Wednesday, because I’m not here on Tuesday or Thursday or Friday.” I’m looking forward to having a place that’s available to them all the time.