Thursday, May 28, 2015

Burgermeister Meisterburgers of Albany


Burger and fries at Burger21 in Latham, NY May 2015
Did you know that May is National Burger Month? And that May 28 is National Burger Day???

Me neither. Two more stupid things not to care about.

BUT, let's get really serious for a minute. I do love a good burger, and since Americans eat 50 billion burgers a year (3 per week/per person) I assume there are others just like me (superheroes and otherwise) that love a good burger, too.

Now we can all play Burgermeister and flip a few burgers on the grill. Don't take much lurnin' justa brewsky and some meat and a flipper and maybe some gasoline to getchagoin and a bun and ketchup and let me tell you MAN that first burger you ate off the barbie was delicious, wasn't it?  YES, it's not a work of genius: cheap, quick, tasty, and iconic, especially if you are cooking in flip flops.

Which is PROBABLY the reason (i.e., that it doesn't take a genius) why we have a "new obsession" in the Capital Region with burger restaurants. But we're NOT a bunch of edible dummies around here, and we're getting smarter.

The local chapter of the Alliance for Women in Media therefore organized a panel discussion on May 14, hosted by Steve Barnes of Table Hopping fame, at the Century House in Latham, NY to explore this complex and highly politicized modern gastronomical phenomena: new burger joints opening in Albany. On board were Bill Lia Jr. (franchise owner for the area of BurgerFi [along with Angelo Mazzone, another name that should be familiar to you]), Colleen Pierson (spokesperson for Sonic Drive-In, apparently owned by Patricia Bruder and now hiring, note this especially if you rollerskate), Bobby Mitchell (independent restaurateur and owner of Juicy Burgers), Leo Butera (operating partner of the local Smashburger franchise), and Mike Stygles, franchisee for Burger 21 (along with his partner Bruce Anderson, and owners of the Melting Pot). Steve asked the panel a series of pretty standard questions, and the answers were mostly honest and believable and sometimes funny.  So what kind of amazing things did we learn ???

  • There is not a burger war in Albany. Thank goodness.
  • There are lots of burger joints in the area (duh), so there is competition, but these guys are into quality, tasty food that is not "fast food". 
  • Sonic is a "quick serve" restaurant, not a "burger restaurant". Please update your brain.
  • Juicy Burgers also sells salads, which are good for you (75% of sales, however, are burgers).
  • Burger21 is selling you an experience, not just a burger. I hope yours is as memorable as mine
  • Kids are looking for something fancy because they now watch cooking shows. Really?
  • Sonic in Latham is currently open 24/7 because there are no walls or a roof yet.
  • Sonic should appeal to families because of good value and fast service. They make peanut butter and bacon shakes. OK, let's move on.
  • Smashburger was #6, Americas Most Promising Companies in 2014 according to Forbes. OK let's move on again because that's just boring unless you are an investor.
  • Community involvement is heartfelt, not just another marketing ploy. (I gleaned this; it was not actually spoken in so many words).
  • Saturdays are the busiest days at burger joints to experience a burger at one of these new locations. 
  • Online ordering (with mobile apps especially), take out, and even delivery services can ramp up revenue. (Note: I must get more organized when I have the munchies and start ordering ahead instead of staying "I'm really really hungry let's stop for a burger right now").  
  • BurgerFi will have beer and wine. Thank goodness: a REAL family restaurant where even Mom might enjoy herself for a change.
So the menus are more diverse, the shakes and burgers and "crafted", the fries are hand cut, the cooking techniques are more controlled than using gasoline and briquettes, and these "experiences" are MUCH better than drive-thru (and more expensive, but that's OK - the quality is MUCH better). Whatever the marketing hype, the food is good, even great at times. I WILL go that extra 10 feet to get a better burger. 
I've done Juicy Burger over the years and love them. Burger21 was a joy. I've got a free entree coupon to Smashburger that I will test drive next week, and I look forward to Sonic and BurgerFi opening up. QUESTION: Will any of them move to downtown Albany??? Even my superpowers can't crack that one, but let me tell you, the burbs is burgeoning with burgers. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Oh, and happy National Burger Day. At least you didn't have to get that card in the mail by Thursday.

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