Phil Roberts has been creating restaurants that respond to how we live now for more than 30 years, so it isn’t surprising that his latest–Burger Jones, which opens in Minneapolis next week–is attuned to current economic conditions.
“In these rough times, people still need pleasure, and you can offer that two-hour mini vacation away from all the nonsense, and CNN and the bad news. [Burger Jones] is an oasis at the end of the day, but people don’t want an oasis where they’re spending $60 or $70 a head,” says Roberts, a founding partner of Minneapolis multiconcept operator Parasole Restaurant Holdings.
Burger prices start at $6.95 at Burger Jones and escalate depending on choice of toppings (government-commodity cheese is free; French blue cheese is an extra $3). The restaurant–a remodeled former Applebee’s unit–has a full bar and 20 beers on tap. There are seats for 140 in the dining room, with another 60 patio seats in appropriate weather.
Roberts sold off two of his most successful restaurant concepts–Buca di Beppo and The Oceanaire Seafood Room–so he could concentrate on (i.e. have more fun) developing a eclectic group of Twin Cities concepts that includes Manny’s Steakhouse, Chino Latino, Pittsburgh Blue Steakhouse, Salut Bar Americain and others. “We have Manny’s, and that’s a $100 [per-person] transaction. Pittsburgh Blue is $45 and Salut is $30, and you can go down the line,” Roberts says. “We felt we needed a place where people could go for a burger and a beer and get out for $13 or $14.”
The menu has a variety of specialty burgers, including a White Trash Burger topped with chicken-fried bacon and cheese curds. Turkey, salmon and meatless burgers also are offered. Then there’s the Dog Burger, a custom-produced hot dog that Roberts describes as a 4-inch-diameter hockey puck. “We griddle it. Extremely cool,” he says.
Three varieties of french fries are menued: sweet potato with maple-bacon salt; Parmesan topped; and the hand-cut fries from Salut that repeatedly have won best-in-the-city honors. “We don’t tamper with those,” Robert says.
Roberts deflects any suggestion that opening a restaurant is an especially iffy gamble at this time. “We’re bullish; all our restaurants are doing well,” he says. “No question a lot of places are hurting, but by and large they’re the ubiquitous chains or places with $80 or $90 transactions. Independents and places with great value are doing fine.”
To read Phil Roberts’ answers to the 10 Burger Questions, click the jump link.
Ten Burger Questions
1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you love burgers? Wow, it’s like pizza: Even the worst one I had was still pretty good. I’d say 10. I love ‘em
2. Better way to cook a burger, open-flame or flat-top grill? Flat-top, absolutely. You get that crust on the outside. We’ve experimented so many ways and clearly that’s the way to go.
3. Highest price a restaurant shoulod charge for a burger? I think probably $14, $15, $16. We don’t have any that high, but we were in New York City sampling burgers and a lot of the good ones were in that range.
4. Favorite burger topping? Blue cheese.
5. What should never be on a burger? Okra.
6. Best non-beef burger? A veggie burger. We have a good one at Burger Jones. Nuts and beans and the usual suspects, but it’s really good.
7. Favorite burger beverage? Root beer, or if we’re going alcoholic, beer.
8. Best restaurant burger you’ve had (other than yours)? The Little Owl in New York City.
9. Favorite food when you were a child? Chicken and dumplings. We had that a lot.
10. What’s next after Burger Jones? Oh, we plan to fill up the [new-concept] pipeline.