18/06/2008 - 22:00

Do you want fries with that?

18/06/2008 - 22:00

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Ubiquitously recognised as a symbol of fast food culture, the burger and chips hasn't had an easy time of late in the popular media.

Do you want fries with that?
HEALTHY: Retro Betty’s owner Michael Wiss (top) and Flipside Burger Bar principal Hamish Fleming are strong believers in the healthy properties of burgers made with fresh ingredients. Photos: Grant Currall

Ubiquitously recognised as a symbol of fast food culture, the burger and chips hasn't had an easy time of late in the popular media.

But while the headlines might scream "Children's obesity epidemic" and the state government moves to ban junk food promotion in junior sporting groups, the big fast food chains aren't taking a backward step, as evidenced by Hungry Jack's recent renewal of its sponsorship of the West Coast Eagles.

There is a new, independent breed of burger barons, however, ready to challenge the cliché by offering home-made style burgers.

Former fitness consultant and bodybuilder Michael Wiss was one of the first to challenge the stereotype when he started Retro Betty's burger bars in 2001.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about burgers and fast foods; all the bad press is very unfair because it paints everyone the same way," he told Gusto.

Mr Wiss, who is a strong believer in the healthy value of burgers, says his career move from a fitness and lifestyle consultant to burger bar owner has been a natural progression.

"Retro Betty's has a strong reputation for having healthy low-fat burgers. We have a total concept where we make all the burgers, the bread rolls and the sauces," he says.

Mr Wiss says Retro Betty's clientele has evolved over time, as more people became open to the concept. Initially, more men patronised the Leederville venue, but there is now a broad range of people coming through the doors, he says.

Following success in Leederville, Mr Wiss opened a second restaurant in the Greater Union cinema complex in Innaloo in 2006.

While the first restaurant was an inner-city 50-seat venue, the Innaloo restaurant seats 160.

The fit-out of Retro Betty's has a vintage feel to it with 1960s style furniture, although Mr Wiss says that the theme doesn't refer to a specific period.

"We are 'retro cool', it doesn't refer to a specific time, some aspects are from the 1960s. I don't want to be Happy Days either because it doesn't suit everybody," he says.

Mr Wiss is also planning to relaunch the concept of Retro Betty's in the next couple of months, involving some changes to the set up and the colour schemes as well as adding new items on the menu.

Retro Betty's is among a number of burger bars to open in recent years, and while it remains unique with its retro cool feel, each of the venues to have opened since has found a distinctive point of difference.

Australia's Finest Burgers, which opened last year in Subiaco, has a more upmarket approach to the burger bar concept, while Flipside Burger Bar, which is occupying the old Victorian building on 239 Queen Victoria Street in North Fremantle since 2006, looks more like a neighbourhood meeting place.

"We thought it was important to make our venue simple and stylish, that's why we chose this Victorian building with the limestone walls and long communal tables," Flipside Burger Bar owner Hamish Fleming says.

"The staff cooks everything in front of the customers, it's like a bar."

Mr Fleming, who's also a lawyer, and his wife Siobhan started Flipside after working in Hong Kong for several years.

The couple is about to open a second restaurant on Cambridge Street in Wembley, and a conditional small bar licence has been approved for a venue attached to the current burger bar in North Fremantle, which will be called Mrs Brown Bar.

However, Mr Fleming says he doesn't want to roll-out a franchise format for his business, which has a communal feel.

"It's very rewarding to have a regular clientele that comes in each week and to know their names," he says.

Like Mr Wiss, Mr Fleming is a strong believer in the healthy values of burgers.

"The burger has a stigma attached to it, but if you combine high-quality meat, fresh salad and freshly baked roll, it's very healthy," he says.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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