Organic Burger Trend on Fast Track
We’ve had cheeseburgers, double bacon cheeseburgers and now—the latest trend hitting the full-service market—the organic patty.
Bareburger, which specializes in organic burgers, opened 13 locations in the New York metropolitan area, and is expanding nationally. It’s one of several eateries including Hopdoddy Burger Bar in Austin, Texas, Blue Moon Burgers in Seattle, and The Cowfish in Charlotte, North Carolina, capitalizing on consumers’ desire to eat healthy but tasty burgers.
The Bareburger product consists of beef free of hormones, antibiotics, and steroids, says CEO and co-founder Euripides Pelekanos. He says the beef is 85 percent lean compared to 65 percent to 70 percent lean at most restaurants. Since the beef is grass-fed, it contains twice the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally-raised meats.
Bareburger has five company-owned outlets and eight franchised units, and by the end of 2013, it will add nine eateries in New York City; Plainview and Rockville Centre, Long Island; Hoboken and Edgewater, New Jersey; Westchester Country, Connecticut; and Columbus, Ohio, which represents the first foray outside of the New York metropolitan area. Most outlets are 2,800 to 3,000 square feet.
Launched in 2009, Bareburger was the brainstorm of Pelekanos and four partners. They owned Sputnik, an underground Brooklyn music club, where they devised a menu that featured organic and all-natural snacks. The burgers became an instant hit, which led them to develop Bareburger.
In addition to beef patties, the burger menu offers an array of proteins including bison, lamb, turkey, chicken, and ostrich, plus the restaurant has salads and sandwiches. But beef burgers generate about 55 percent of sales, bison accounts for 20 percent, turkey is 10 percent, and another 10 percent comes from salads and sandwiches. Vegans opt for a black bean or mushroom burger and gluten-free fans order the burger wrapped in lettuce, not a bun.
On the downside, Bareburger may not fit into a diet menu. “You’re still going to take in calories,” says Pelekanos. In fact, the burgers served on brioche contain about 550 to 600 calories.
Entering a Bareburger restaurant, a patron is greeted by a hostess and served by a friendly wait staff. The average check rings in at $18 for a burger, fries, and a soda. Prices rise if patrons order beer or organic wine. The target audience is “aged 22 to 40, relatively affluent, and looking for a better burger,” says Pelekanos.
Fries were originally made in healthier peanut oil, but several complaints from diners with peanut allergies sparked Bareburger’s decision to switch to canola oil.
Jana Klauer, a clinical nutritionist and author of “The Park Avenue Nutritionist’s Plan,” says grass-fed beef is “healthier because it’s a source of Omega 3. You want to avoid antibiotics, hormones, and steroids.”
One patron on Yelp described the roadhouse burger as “a big, sloppy burger but tasty beyond belief. The brioche is also very tasty almost like challah.” But another customer carped that Bareburger “was a bit pricey despite the food quality.”
Franchising a Bareburger costs about $750,000, which includes the franchise fees and initial start-up expenses such as construction costs, permits, and rent. Pelekanos is selective about choosing franchisees and seeks investors who “have great passion and aren’t in it for the money.”
“We’re going national. We’ll be in Chicago next year, then California, Washington state, and Oregon. We’re perfect for urban environments,” Pelekanos says. He plans to make regional adjustments to the menu, adding tacos and more vegetarian fare in California. By the end of 2014, he expects to have 40 outlets; about eight company-owned and 32 franchised.
Ultimately, Bareburger’s growth depends on two factors: hiring the right people and maintaining consistency. About consistency, Pelekanos says, “That’s not easy to do at burger places. We do it by spot checks by our team, secret shoppers, constantly monitoring what people are saying online, and reading guest comments on our website and comment cards.”
By Gary M. Stern