Burgers are back, and better than ever. Carolyn Herbert reports.
FORGET the fast-food fare, specialty burger bars that offer a gourmet gastronomic experience are popping up all over town.
During the past 12 months, national franchises Grill’d and Burger Edge have joined the Perth restaurant scene, local player Jus Burgers has expanded its business, while V Burger Bar and Missy Moos are also new to the market.
Issam Soubjaki bought the first Burger Edge franchise in Victoria six years ago and acquired the brand in 2009.
“Next to pizza and pasta the hamburger is probably the most well-known food around the world. We took a well-loved product and brought it into the modern age, it was more of an evolution than a revolution,” Mr Soubjaki says.
Burger Edge opened its first WA store at ENEX100 in September 2010 and its largest store nationwide at the Waterford Plaza shopping centre in January.
With franchises already in Victoria and Queensland, Mr Soubjaki says expanding Burger Edge into WA was a logical business strategy.
“WA people expect the best and they are quite prepared to pay for it, so we scouted the area and found that there wasn’t a lot of offering in our market,” he says.
Mr Soubjaki says the location of the restaurants, typically at large retail sites and in food halls, is paramount to the success of the business.
“Our strategy is to go for tier-one sites only; the best retail sites with the most traffic and highest unit spend per square kilometre,” Mr Soubjaki told Gusto.
Before expanding into WA, Mr Soubjaki researched the competition in the burger market.
“Grill’d is our main competitor, but we can take smaller sites such as food courts, so our business can be dine in and take away,” he says.
All Burger Edge restaurants are franchised and cost around $300,000, while a Grill’d franchise costs at least $350,000.
Burger Edge is set to open in Raine Square by the middle of this year and will open four more restaurants in WA during the next 18 months.
Meanwhile, WA-owned and run Jus Burgers has recently opened its third restaurant in Northbridge and will open its fourth in Fremantle in June.
Jus Burgers was the brainchild of chef Justin Bell, who noticed the popularity of gourmet burgers while working abroad.
“I saw the rise of the gourmet burger overseas. Everyone likes it and it ticks lots of food groups and people have recognised that its not junk food,” Mr Bell says.
Jus Burgers opened its first store in Leederville at the start of 2009 and its second in Subiaco 10 months later.
“We had the concept of providing fresh, local and honest food. The GFC was happening when we opened, so we wanted to offer a warm nurturing environment with real value-for-money meals,” Mr Bell told Gusto.
Unlike the franchise model of Burger Edge and Grill’d, however, the ‘f word’ is not a part of Jus Burgers’ business plan.
“We will never franchise. I own and operate my businesses and that’s why we’ve only grown to four,” he says.
Mr Bell looks for a buzzing street scene when selecting Jus Burger locations.
“I come from an urban high-street background, so I want killer spots on killer high-street locations around Perth,” he says.
One-off, locally owned burger bars have also made a name for themselves in Perth.
Co-owner and chef of V Burger Bar in East Victoria Park, Anthone, said Jus Burgers inspired him to start his own burger bar.
V Burger Bar opened in November of 2009 after Anthone realised that a gourmet burger bar was missing on the popular cafe strip.
“We saw a gap in the market in East Victoria Park and thought that we should give it a go. A hamburger is just easy going food, it’s easy to put together, but not many people want to make them themselves,” Anthone told Gusto.
Despite being a smaller player in the WA gourmet burger market, Anthone says that he doesn’t let the competition faze him.
“We just do our bit and do things right. It’s important to be honest about what you serve and worry about the quality first,” he says.
Anthone hopes to set up another V Burger Bar later this year, but says he will be looking for a very different location.
“Everyone targets busy areas, but I don’t really see the point. If we moved to a busy area such as Leederville or Mount Lawley we would have to share the pie, so we are really aiming to open up a new market,” he says.
Anthone believes that being smaller allows V Burger Bar to be more flexible with its menu.
“We try to be flexible with customers because they often have something different in mind that they would like to try, and this may be more difficult for the bigger burger chains,” he says.
“It’s a recession-proof business in my point of view. We are not fine dining or extravagantly priced, it’s just relaxed, gourmet casual dining.”
Mr Soubjaki is also confident his investment in a Burger Edge franchise is a wise move.
“I believe we are in this for the long term and all the players will carve out their own niche in the burger market,” Mr Soubjaki says.
Mr Bell was not so sure, saying he would be interested to see which burger bars will be around in two or three years.
“Who will still be around in a few years we don’t know. It’s about sustainability; if your model isn’t right people will find out and not everyone is going to win.”