Posted by Amy | Posted in Food, Uncategorized | Posted on 08-08-2012
FitGirl: What should we have for dinner?
FitGirl: Quinoa pilaf? Brown rice?
FitGirl: No seriously. What are we having for dinner?
FitGirl: C’mon, we can’t have burgers for dinner again. Salmon? Protein shake?
FitGirl: For goodness sa….
FitGirl: If you say “Bareburger” one more time…
FitGirl: Look, I know Bareburger is tasty and organic, but..
FatGirl: I’ll buy you a milkshake.
FitGirl: Bareburger it is.
May I introduce Bareburger
A friend dragged me to Bareburger about a month ago. OK, fine. “Dragged” is a wee bit forceful. Let’s go with “enthusiastically suggested and I capitulated”. Look at me with the SAT words! I’m not a big burger fan, not because I don’t like burgers but because when I want a good burger, 9 times out of 10 I’m totally disappointed in what arrives on my plate. She added “They’re organic by the way” to entice me further. And I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes at that. As a marketeer, I see “organic” tossed around with little care and used mostly to justify a price mark up. Yeah, I’m a bit biased, but more on that in a second…
So, we go to Bareburger on 31st Ave in Astoria. All the employees were so nice, it was almost uncomfortable. In New York, you sort of get used to pleasant but brisk and efficient service. Our server chatted with us like we were real human beings, like folks from the neighborhood, while also providing pleasant and efficient service. We had a 10 minute conversation about burlesque hair styles while we waited for our dinner. I began to feel there was something a little bit different about Bareburger.
It was all over the moment my burger and onion rings arrived.
Remember when I said that 9 out of 10 times I’m totally disappointed in my burger experience because it never lives up to my expectations? All burgers will now have to live up to the standard Bareburger created for me.
So, the service and vibe in Bareburger is exceptional and the food will make you an instant fan. But there was still something nagging at me.
The whole “organic” thing. It’s hard for me to get past seeing it as anything but a marketing gimmick. Like my favorite coffee place features “organic” coffee. OK great, that’s awesome right? But the milk they serve for your organic coffee is not organic. So what’s the point of having one and only one element of your meal being organic when it’s overwhelmed by all the non-organic ingredients? It’s like what’s the point of having a diet Coke with your 3,000 calorie Blooming Onion? Sorry, I’m a bit soap-boxy about all this.
See, I WANT to fall madly, head-over-heels in love with Bareburger. I WANT to believe that its NOT a gimmick, and cheerlead the cause.
So, I went to the source – Owner, founder, creator Euripides Pelekanos.
EP, as he signs his emails, shared that the ideas behind Bareburger started almost by accident. In 2001, EP opened Sputnik, a live music and art venue in Brooklyn. They served food, but food, while not quite an afterthought, wasn’t what Sputnik was about. Until they put an organic burger on the menu. Now, this was before burgers became the new cupcake, before Five Guys and Shake Shack showed up in NY, before burgers were cool and trendy. People started hitting up Sputnik just for the burgers and the music and art started to come second. In that moment, Bareburger began to take shape.
“But there was one thing that didn’t make @#$%’ing sense”, (Sidenote – Hanging out with EP is like hanging out with that kid you grew up in the neighborhood with, straight forward and very personable, relaxed but really passionate. He kept apologizing for cussing. It was cute). “It just doesn’t make sense to have an organic burger and then pile it with non-organic toppings.”
Hello Mind Reader!
“Organic isn’t just a trend, it’s where the food industry is going”. EP had me consider that all the processed, mass produced, factory food we grew up on was driven by big business in the 50s. World War II ended, the Baby Boom was on. We changed how we lived and what was important to us. We stopped shopping at local markets and started going for convenience and speed. Organic is now becoming big business and will (heck, already is) change the way food is produced and consumed. Now hold that thought…
Bareburger opened in 2009 in a TINY 1000 square foot former bakery that had been closed “forever”, EP says. And he would know as he, and the other owners of Bareburger, all grew up in Astoria. Back in those days, (yeah I know, “3 years ago” is not an eon but things can change really rapidly in NYC neighborhoods) Astoria didn’t have a lot of “fancy” food. You had your typical local restaurants, heavy on the Greek flavors, being an old immigrant neighborhood, but you wouldn’t find many foodie blog write ups about Astoria. Doing a fancy hamburger in a working class neighborhood was risky enough, adding the organic element was nail-biting. EP says they did ZERO advertising except for an 8 1/2 X 11 printout in the window saying “Bareburger. Organic Burgers. Opening June 12, 2pm”. On opening day, with EP in the kitchen, they expected 5 or 6 people at the door. About 60 showed up at 2pm. After a bit of a bumpy start, they knew they hit a nerve. Three years later, the 11th Bareburger will open very very soon in an undisclosed location (Yup, I know where it is, and Nope I’m not telling), and EP joked that they’ve probably served over a million burgers.
And now back to Big Business… EP said that sourcing ingredients and staying profitable can be a challenge when you’re talking organic and all natural ingredients. It’s a challenge on both the farmer’s side of things and the buyer’s side. Licenses and certifications are expensive, then there’s shipping, storage, and probably a bazillion things I’m not even thinking about. “Once you start dealing in volume, costs come down and you have greater control over the product”. Then we talked bacon. Ah, bacon, it always comes back to bacon. EP shared how, because of the volume Bareburger deals in with soon-to-be 11 shops, he can get suppliers to craft products just for Bareburger like special cut, cured and smoked bacon.
Bareburger wants to have that one-on-one relationship with their suppliers so they know exactly what they are buying. Why? Because they want YOU to know it too. Each table has an FAQ that gives you, in almost overwhelming details, the fat percentages, origin, chemical usage, certification of pretty much everything on the menu. It’s rather impressive.
That little FAQ sheet will also tell you that Bareburger is about as green as you can get without building from the ground up. They use recycled vinyl for their booths, reclaimed wood for the tables, and recycled and re-purposed furnishings wherever they can. Again, EP noted how absurd it is to serve organic food on petro-chemical plastics. Bareburger has seen some crazy growth, but you probably won’t see Bareburgers popping up in your local mall. It’s a Main Street, neighborhood kind of joint. Manager Steve told me that one of the things he loves about working on 31st Ave is that it is a neighborhood, all the shop owners are buddies rather than competitors. “Its like you can go next door and borrow a cup of sugar if you need to”.
Yeah, I know your thinking “hey, this is weird, Amy isn’t talking about how delicious the food is”. Just trust it’s crazy pants delicious, but for god sakes, what ever you do, do not have a milkshake. That’s right, step away from the milkshake. Just back off, alright. I will go all Mr. Blonde on you if they are out of vanilla ice cream because you ordered the last vanilla milkshake. Just sayin’ – alls fair in love and war and milk shakes.
OK, so you know the food is beyond good, the service is top notch, and they are organic as part of the fabric of the company. But this is what sealed the deal for me:
I asked EP about the logo – what the heck is up with a bear riding a unicycle with a beer and a burger in its hands. He smiled and said “Why not a bear riding a unicycle with a beer and a burger in its hands? Look, after a couple drinks, it seemed like a good idea and it just stuck.”