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Last Week’s Most intriguing Burgers

It was a quiet week in Burgerland, but these seven caught my eye.

Toma's Dream Come True

Toma’s Dream Come True

Spritz Burger's Collision

Spritz Burger’s Collision

→ Toma-Burger Addiction in Toronto called their burger a Dream Come True and it just might be so. That’s a beef patty with double Cheddar, house-made pulled pork, caramelized onion and onion rings with roasted-garlic aïoli on a house-made brioche milk bun.

→ James McNair, the creative chef Chicago’s new Spritz Burger came up with the Collision Burger. What’s coming together are a pork patty, barbecue, bacon, blue cheese and pickled-onion mayo.

→ Elevation Burger doesn’t develop new burgers very often, but up in Maine it has a Surf & Turf burger in two locations. The build is an organic grass-fed beef patty topped with Maine lobster meat and organic bacon on lettuce, tomato and a toasted potato roll.

Hops' Cuban Cowgirl

Hops’ Cuban Cowgirl

→ Hops Burger Bar in Greensboro, N.C., has something new and enticing almost every week. Last week it was a Cuban Cowgirl burger. That’s their standard burger topped with grilled ham, pulled pork, house-made spicy pickles, Swiss cheese and lime-Dijon aïoli.

AjBombers' Atomic Bomber

AJ Bombers’ Atomic Bomber

→ AJ Bombers in Milwaukee doesn’t always have something new that’s a daunting as The Atomic Bomber. That, my friend, is a Stuffed Shroom with Cheddar and Muenster cheeses plus jalapeňo, habanero, serrano, and Anaheim peppers.

→ Rok Burger in South Miami had a clear favorite for the World Cup final. Its German Burger was a Certified Angus Beef patty with horseradish Cheddar, smoked sausage and sauerkraut.

Byron's Ronoldo

Byron’s Ronaldo

→ The Byron chain in the UK couldn’t resist. It promoted its Ronaldo burger with the line, “Well at least there’s one Brazilian that will be here until the end of the World Cup.” Ouch. But the burger honoring “El Fenomeno” is no joke. The build is “two 6-oz patties, rashers of crispy bacon, onions gently fried in butter until soft and sweet, pickles and crispy fried onions for crunch, and American cheese. None of your fancy sauces here – just a no-nonsense dollop of ketchup and American mustard, all inside our classic glazed bun.” Score.

Happy Monday.

Fewer LTOs Slows Restaurant Ad Spending

Restaurants reined in advertising spending in 2014’s first quarter after significantly exceeding the average throughout 2013. According to Kantar Media, total U.S. advertising expenditures (all businesses) increased a surprisingly strong 5.7% to $34.9 billion in the first quarter.

However, restaurant spending in Q1 increased just 1.9% to $1.678 billion. That ended the industry’s year-old streak of topping the average in each of the last four quarters.

full-year 2012, total U.S. advertising rose 3%. Restaurants were roughly in line with a 4% increase. But once 2013 began and slowing sales by many restaurant chains fueled an overheated competitiveness that translated into heavier ad spending. In 2013’s Q1, total spending declined by 0.1% but restaurant ad spending jumped up by 8%.

Spending accelerated in Q2 with restaurant spending up 12.6% while overall ad spending rose 3.5%. Them restaurant industry calmed itself a bit in Q3 with a 5.5% increase (vs. 3.5% overall) and ended the year with a 5.2% increase. Total U.S. ad spending was up just 0.9% for the year.

Now 2014 has begun fairly meekly with a 1.9% gain despite the presence of the ad-heavy Winter Olympics. The first quarter is traditionally fairly quiet in sales growth but last year’s 8% spike in Q1 spending shows that this year’s soft spending isn’t a seasonal phenomenon.

What I think the 1.9% ad spending increase represents is the impact of the this year’s slowdown in menu introductions that McDonald’s and Burger King and others have instituted. Fewer LTOs require fewer ad bursts to support them. Q1 did see some rollouts, including McDonald’s Bacon Clubhouse (introduced in March, it was the chain’s first significant new product of the year), Burger King’s quarter-pound Big King, Wendy’s Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger and Jack in the Box’s Bacon Insider. But there fewer “secondary” product introductions and a less frenzied marketplace overall. Worn out by 2013, chains aren’t as eager to one-up each other this year.

Carl’s Jr.’s and Hardee’s Reverse Themselves

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s just can’t play it straight when it comes to healthy eating. Unabashedly devoted to oversize burgers (Some exceeding 1,000 calories) for an audience the two proudly define as “young, hungry guys,” they don’t easily talk about healthier eating. For last summer’s introduction of a Cranberry Apple Walnut Grilled Chicken Salad, actress Jenny McCarthy was on hand for the chain’s signature sultry TV spots that made salads almost seem indulgent.CarlsJr.healthy

Now the two chains are playing healthy-eating straight. But backwards.

Promoting “the other side” of their menus, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have created websites with URLs that are their names backwards: and, respectively. The sites, too, are backwards although they flip to minimize headache-inducing confusion. “A little healthier. Just as tasty” is the tagline for the sites.

Each site provides suggestions for eating as healthy as possible at the two chains. This includes the availability of low-carb, lettuce-wrapped burgers and chicken sandwiches. Entrees at 500 calories or lower aren’t either chain’s specialty, but the sites feature four of its turkey burgers that range from 480 to 500 calories. Even a vegetarian-style Hardee’s Thickburger with no burger patty still weighs in at 550 calories, but a Famous Star burger with no mayo is 430 calories. The sites also note that combo meals can be customized with a side salad and bottled water swapped for the standard fries and soft drink.

Hardees_siteCarl’s Jr./Hardee’s hasn’t gone backwards before, but it does have a history of being contrary. It just doesn’t like to follow the pack. That’s true now, too, when many other chains have cut back substantially on the number of new menu items they’re introducing.

Carl’s Jr. has been more aggressive than any other in the past few months. Among the items it has added to its menu have been the Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich plus a Jalapeňo Big Chicken Fillet flanker; Made From Scratch Chorizo, Eggs & Cheese Biscuits and Burritos; Made From Scratch Cinnamon Pull-Aparts; Bacon Ranch Fries; Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Fillet; Western X-tra Bacon Thickburger; X-tra Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit; a Sea Salt & Caramel Shake and more. It also has been spotted testing a biscuit/donut hybrid called “bisnuts” and Big Chicken Masher and Burger Masher Thickburgers topped with mashed potatoes. That’s a full year’s work already.

Note that none of these new items can be classified as low-cal. The chains know their clientele.

Rapid introductions of new items is a gamble that McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s no longer want to take.  Sales data will tell if the risk is worth taking for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

Three Cheers for the Red, White & Burger

Some burger bars will be closed on Friday so that staff can grill burgers at home. But many not only will be open, they’ll also be offering house-special 4th of July burgers. Among them:

Blue Moon's Red, White & Blue

Blue Moon’s Red, White & Blue

Blue Moon Burgers, Seattle: The Red, White & Blue burger is a third-pound beef patty on a brioche bun slathered with house-made herb aïoli and topped with a slice of Beecher’s Handmade Flagship Cheese, caramelized red onion and house-made blueberry ketchup.

The Love Shack, Fort Worth, Texas: The boom in the Red, White & Boom burger is a deep-fried Portobello mushroom cap atop the beef and cheese.

Flip Burger Boutique, Atlanta & Birmingham: The Old Glory is a grass-fed beef patty topped with American cheese, crispy bacon, grilled hot dogs, sweet Southern slaw, house-made beef chili, deviled-egg mayo & all the fixins.

Blue Star Burgers, Tenafly, N.J.: The Freedom is two pizza bagels topped with quarter-pound beef patties, Cheddar and haystack onions.

Crow Burger Kitchen, Newport Beach, Calif.: The All-American is their signature beef patty topped with a split and grilled hot dog, American cheese and ground mustard on the house brioche bun.

Love Shack's Red, White & Boom

Love Shack’s Red, White & Boom

 Slater’s 50/50, Southern California: The ‘merica burger is back and better than ever. That’s a 100% ground-bacon patty layered with a sunny-side-up egg, thick-cut bacon, bacon island dressing and bacon Cheddar cheese. This year it sits atop their bacon pretzel bun, made specially for Slater’s using rendered bacon fat instead of butter and real pieces of bacon in the dough on top.

Bucket List Burgers, Riverside, Calif.: The Liberty Burger is their All American burger with double bacon, double American cheese, lettuce, tomato and Thousand Island dressing on a brioche bun.

The Oinkster, Los Angeles: The July 4th BBQ Brisket Sandwich has sliced smoked BBQ brisket topped with house Traditional BBQ Sauce, chopped onions, pickles and mayo on a French roll.

The Diner, London: Commemorating the revolution while forgetting who won, this British restaurant is offering a Sweet Home Burger with a 100% USDA rib and brisket patty with pickle, bacon and French’s mustard on a soft potato roll.

And what would the 4th be without fireworks?

Burgers2Beers' Firecracker

Burgers2Beers’ Firecracker

Wayback Burgers, multiple locations: The Firecracker Burger is topped with jalapeňo slices, bacon, chipotle mayo, pepper Jack cheese and French’s Original French Fried Onions.

Burger Bar, Amarillo, Texas: Their Firecracker burger is their half-pound beef patty topped with bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, fried jalapeño strips, guacamole and sour cream.

Milwaukee Burger Company, Eau Claire, Wis.: The Firecracker Burger dreamed up by customer Anne “Bruhling” Woolever is topped with house jalapeño poppers, sweet chili sauce and Cheddar-Jack cheese.

Burgers 2 Beer, Cleveland: The Firecracker is topped with jalapeño cornbread stuffing, habanero cheese, BBQ sauce and honey-peppered bacon.

Burger Boss, Elmwood Park, Ill.: The Firecracker Dog has cheese and all the rest.

Enjoy your holiday.

‘Proud Whopper’ Defines Burger King’s ‘Be Your Way’

Burger King Corp. steps up and boldly defines its new “Be Your Way” tagline in an unexpected way on July 2 when it releases a short film in support of equality.BK_ProudWhopper2

During the 44th Annual San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, the Burger King at 1200 Market Street on the parade route offered a special “Proud Whopper” wrapped in the rainbow colors of the gay-rights movement. Inside, diners found a regular Whopper burger with the message “We are all the same inside” inscribed on the wrapper’s interior.

The short film made in and around the Market Street store captures the reactions of some who ordered a Proud Whopper as well as some who didn’t. One man says, “If that’s what they’re going to do, they won’t be having my business anymore.” But others clearly are moved by Burger King’s stand.

In an interview with, Burger King SVP-Global Brand Management Fernando Machado acknowledged that some BK customers might not like the Proud Whopper initiative. “But I am more excited that we are making this statement in support of self-expression,” he said. “I would like to believe we are uniting people behind this message that I hope all can support.

“This is exactly what ‘Be Your Way’ means,” Machado added. “When we first introduced it, I said that it expressed how Burger King welcomes everyone to our stores. [The Proud Whopper] elevates that message and makes it more meaningful, I believe.”

BK_Proud Whopper1The initiative resulted from San Francisco operators’ “desire to be part of an important local event, as we are everywhere,” said Machado. The Proud Whopper was locally relevant “but we wanted to go beyond that, beyond just one city, to create a film that can be for everyone,” he said. The chain will be looking for additional  ways to “embody the spirit of the ‘Be Your Way’ attitude,” he said.

The Proud Whopper sandwich will continue to be sold at the Market Street unit at $4.29 through July 3. All proceeds from the sandwich sales will go to the chain’s Burger King McLamore Foundation (named for founder Jim McLamore), designated for scholarships benefiting LGBT college-bound high school seniors graduating in spring 2015.

The Proud Whopper film can be seen at beginning July 2. David, named Burger King’s global ad agency in April, created the film.

Burgers &: 2014’s Top New Burger Bars Pt. 1

The burger-bar phenomenon wouldn’t have survived as it has without evolving over time. The rise of craft beers helped saved the burger boom when the recession hit. Now, surveying the top burger bars that opened during the first half of 2014, what I’ll call a “Burgers &” phase appears to have set in. Burgers remain the soul of these concepts, but there’s often the overlay of an additional element.

The Fix Burger Bar's mushroom burger

The Fix Burger Bar’s mushroom burger

» Consider Whisk in Chicago where the motto is “Brunch by Day; Burgers by Night.” Co-owner Rick Rodriguez explains it this way: “I love burgers; I could eat burgers all day. But my brother [David] loves brunch. So we said, ‘We don’t have to choose. We’ll do both.’” People love burgers and love brunch; it’s a great idea. Many of those who come for brunch vow to return for burgers and vice versa, Rodriguez says.

Brunch is served from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. before Whisk closes for an hour to reconfigure the kitchen and clean the dining room. The BYOB burger menu is in effect from 5 p.m. to closing. The concept’s two styles do overlap: Several of the half-pound burgers can be served “Breakfast Style.” The $10.50 Old Timer Burger, for example–topped with Cheddar, bacon and an egg–can be served on French toast for a $2 upcharge. The most popular burger is the $11 The House, topped with Chihuahua cheese, chipotle mayo, guacamole and tortilla strips. Scrambled eggs and chorizo can be added for $2.

» Following a somewhat similar path is BB’s in Milwaukee. The initials stand for both “Build a Breakfast” and “Build a Burger.” The result is a menu with all-day breakfast selections and a variety of 7-oz. Certified Black Angus signature burgers as well as BYO burgers. Click here to continue reading Burgers &: 2014’s Top New Burger Bars Pt. 1

Street Smarts: McDonald’s Maltese Food Truck

McD_Malta6The Mediterranean island nation of Malta is one of McDonald’s Corp.’s smallest markets. Its franchisee operates only 10 stores in the country, which covers just 122 square miles and has a population of roughly a half-million. But that small size made it the perfect place for McDonald’s and agency TBWA/ANG to mount one of the most creative initiatives in the chain’s global product-quality campaign.

In most countries, McDonald’s is using broadcast, digital and media to tout the quality of its meat and produce. In Canada, for example, a dedicated “Our Food. Your Questions.” site addresses questions about food quality and offers behind the scenes videos (including one video—which has had 10 million-plus views—that answers the “Why does your food look better in ads than in the stores?” question).McD_Malta2

But in Malta, McDonald’s literally took its quality campaign to the streets with what it called the Quality Truck, as reported by French magazine Creapills. The chain stocked a traditional Maltese produce truck with potatoes, onions, tomatoes and lettuce, painted it in McDonald’s colors and drove it to outdoor markets. Representatives of the chain passed out information on its fresh-foods commitment, answered questions and directed consumers to its website.

McDonald’s may not bring the Quality Truck to other markets, but it could use the “100% Real” tagline that appeared on the truck and in-store on tray liners promoting food quality.

GOL!: A Gallery of World Cup Burgers

While much has been made of McDonald’s World Cup-themed menus in Brazil, Japan and Australia, it isn’t the only restaurant scoring big with burgers tied to the event.

Bread Meats Bread's salute to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bread Meats Bread’s salute to Cristiano Ronaldo.

In terms of ambition at least, the championship is, appropriately, a draw between two English restaurants, The Barn Pub & Restaurant in Royal Tunbridge Wells and The Diner is Islington. While McDonald’s devised burgers representing four countries in Australia and seven in Brazil, both these restaurants have created burgers for each of the 32 World Cup participants.

What tops The Barn’s Ivory Coast Burger? Alloco, an Ivorian   condiment of banana fried in chili peppers. Its home-team England Burger has Stilton cheese. The Diner’s England Burger has roast beef, gravy, horseradish and cheese. Its Brasilian Burger is topped with feijoada, the Brazilian stew of beef and pork. The Barn’s World Cup burgers are £6.95 (with chips, onion rings and salad). The Diner’s burger, served with fries, are £10.

BRGR Co.'s Hand of God Burger

BRGR Co.’s Hand of God Burger

London’s BRGR.Co. in London pays homage to Diego Maradona’s controversial goal in the 1986 World Cup with its “Hand of God Burger.” The burger is topped with slices of Argentine chorizo and is “served on a bed of astroturf.”

At Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, Scotland, “The Lean Machine” burger borrows the nickname of Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. The build is two beef patties, two slices of low-fat Swiss cheese, spicy peri-peri chili mayo and tomatoes inside a lettuce bun. The joint offered to put it on a brioche bun if Portugal was eliminated. So close.

Earlier this month, Bread Meats Bread honored Brazil’s legendary Ronaldo with “The Phenomenon” burger. Three beef patties, triple, roast beef, bacon, slow-cooked onions and house-made gravy. Click here to continue reading GOL!: A Gallery of World Cup Burgers