The Counter starts celebrating Oktoberfest this weekend with the addition of another of its occasional specialty burgers. Available only from September 21 to October 6, its Oktoberfest Burger is a beef patty topped with German beer cheese, sauerkraut, mustard and diced pork belly with an on-trend pretzel bun.
Served with it will be Oktoberfest Fries, which also get the beer cheese, sauerkraut and pork belly plus chopped green onion. This LTO is the chain’s first use of pork belly. The Counter says Founder Jeff Weinstein and its culinary team collaborate on new-burger creation.
The 34-unit, Culver City, Calif.-based concept is built around the customize-your-own-burger idea, but every so often it creates a limited-time burger for the menu. The last was the “Burgers & Beaujolais” pairing promotion with Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages wines. The LTOs were a beef burger topped with soft brie, mixed greens, sprouts, sliced red onion and apricot sauce on a brioche-style bun plus a turkey burger with feta, baby spinach, roasted tomatoes, cucumber, black olives and artichoke vinaigrette, also on the brioche bun.
Source: The NPD Group/CREST, quarter ending June 2013
Customer traffic at U.S. restaurants in Q2 was up 1% over the year-earlier level thanks in large part to increases in QSR breakfast and fast-casual traffic.
The latest data from The NPD Group/CREST counts 15.7 billion customer visits for the April-May-June quarter, returning the U.S. foodservice business to its 2009 level. In addition to the traffic increase, consumer restaurant spending rose by 3%, driven by a higher check average.
Quick-service restaurants (78% of total industry customer traffic) saw a 1% increase for the second quarter. That included a 3% increase in morning-meal traffic and an 8% jump in customer traffic at fast-casual restaurants (included in the QSR total). QSR traffic at lunch and dinner was flat; PM Snack customer counts were 1% higher than a year ago.
Traffic at midscale restaurants (10%) was steady at 2% below year-earlier traffic for the fourth consecutive month. Casual dining (10%) was flat after at least eight consecutive quarters of negative comparisons. Fine dining (1% of total traffic) was 6% ahead of last year’s Q2.
Jason Boso was ahead of the pack in 2006 when he and fellow culinary-school grads Quincy Hart and Steve Thompson co-founded Twisted Root Burger Co. in Dallas, one of the early high-quality, chef-driven burger bars. Last weekend Boso opened his latest concept, Truck Yard, in a 15,000-square-foot lot in Dallas’s Lower Greenville neighborhood. The place is like a sprawling backyard with picnic tables, fire puts and a converted mechanic’s shed turned bar and Steak Me Home Tonight, where they’re cooking sliced rib-eye cheesesteak sandwiches. BurgerBusiness.com pulled Boso away from the cheesesteak grill for a few minutes to give the lowdown on Truck Yard and its meaning for Twisted Root.
So Jason, help me understand what this crazy concept is all about.
Crazy’s probably the right word. Most people when we told them what it was going to be, they couldn’t conceptualize it. But when they walk in they say, “Oh. Now I see what you’re saying.”
A lot of people are calling it a “food park” but, really, it’s more of a bar where you can sit in a beer garden and also get up and go get food from a truck if you want. The atmosphere is more bar than restaurant. There’s a full bar [in the main building] plus one in an old Airstream trailer in the back yard with a bartender in it. There’s a treehouse bar [14 feet up] with a bartender up in it and a big stage for the music we plan on having pretty consistently during the week. And then I’m selling Philly cheesesteaks through a little place. You and the cook are yelling back and forth about what you want on it. It’s that kind of place.
No. We do allow a food truck to sell burgers back here but I’m just serving cheesesteaks.
You’ll rotate the food trucks that will be coming in?
We have a regular rotation of 20-something different trucks. [See the schedule here.] Two to three at a time. We try to keep some consistency, so the same three will be here every Tuesday, for example. [That’s Easy Slider, Good Karma Kitchen and ssahmBBQ at lunch.]
A lot of restaurateurs see food trucks as a threat. It doesn’t sound as though you do.
No. I thought it was a good marriage. I plan on making a majority of my revenue from alcohol sales, so I thought foods trucks would be a good way to draw more people. And it’s a way for me to reduce my square-footage costs by not needing a gigantic kitchen. That cuts my equipment costs and occupancy costs. If I can pack the place full of people and pay servers through tips, it makes it easy for me and a lot more fun.
The food-truck community must have bought in to the idea if you have 20 or so eager to take part.
They were really excited. There’ve been some of these “food-truck parks” in Dallas and Fort Worth but really not many of them have worked out. These [truck] guys have seen them go wrong but they’ve told us we might have the right equation for it.
Where did the idea come from? Was it the site or did you have the idea already?
If you know Austin, you know it has a laid-back, flip-flop feel. And outside there is my favorite place in the world, a town called Gruene. It’s pronounced “Green” but spelled Gruene. I love to go to Gruene Hall [built in 1878] and go dancing, float down the river the next day. And that was the main inspiration: a lot of outdoor drinking and dining with some good Texas country music. You can come with your hat on backwards and wearing that shirt you’ve had since college that just might be a little stinky. That’s my favorite atmosphere.
Is there any sense in which Truck Yard is you saying the “burger bar” era is over?
No, no. I probably would have done burgers here had it not been so close to my original Twisted Root location. Burgers are still No. 1 and I don’t see that changing. You know as well I do that some people like to say burgers are dying. Maybe they are for the “stamped out” chains but uniqueness and creativity are still very craveable. At least that’s what I see.
You have nine Twisted Roots open now, right? With a few more set to open this year?
Our Austin location is experiencing a bit of a delay due to some permit issues. But it will probably open by the end of the year. Shreveport, La., [the first outside Texas] opens next weekend.
How many units can the concept comfortably—meaning you, comfortably—manage?
I continue to grow my team, which is mostly a bunch of close friends I’ve known for 20 years who have a specific skill set that fits our needs. The ones who don’t have those skills just come and drink beer. But I continue to grow that team ahead of the expansion and pay more than I should [for locations] just so I can continue to be creative and not become a uniform chain.
I’m always looking for funky buildings, funky neighborhoods and the funky staff with the nose rings and the big smiles.
So as long as you don’t run out of funky you can keep growing?
Yep. As soon as I feel the funk go away, I’ll slow down or stop!
If you had to create another, totally new concept next week, what’s it going to be?
Seriously? Should we watch for that in a year or so?
I think you should! I do have some plans. It keeps the energy alive.
The average American household spent $51,442 in 2012, a 3.5% increase from 2011 according to just-released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Both food-at-home and food-away-from-home spending increased by 2.2% over the previous year.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Aggregate spending on food accounted for 12.8% of household expenditures in 2012, compared with 13% in 2011.
The average household spent $2,678 on food away from home, accounting for 5.21% of total expenditures. That’s essentially unchanged from 2011, when food-away-from-home was 5.27% of spending.
Spending for food at home was $3,921 in 2012, compared with $3,838 the previous year. Americans devoted 7.6% of spending to food at home, or 46% more on food prepared at home. Still, food purchased away from home, though a smaller percentage of food spending, seems to receive closer scrutiny.
BLS data shows that Hispanic/Latino households devoted 15.5% of household expenditures to food (both away and at-home) last year. That’s higher than the 12.6% average share for white households and 12.1% for African-American households.
Expenditures for transportation (+8.5%), healthcare (+7.3%) and personal insurance and pensions (+3.1%) increased more than those for food last year.
Burger Week Montreal began last year as a 30-restaurant competition to find the city’s best burger. The winner was Burger Bar Crescent’s mind-bending, poutine-topped Hangover Burger. It was a hard act to follow, but this year’s Burger Week was four times better.
That’s because this year’s September 1-7 event was held simultaneously in four Canadian cities: Quebec, Vancouver and Winnipeg as well as Montreal (Toronto held its own Burger Week from May 29 to June 1). More than 100 restaurants took part, each of them offering a special burger during the week. All but a handful were priced at $10 or less. Prizes went to the most popular burger in each city and to diners who ate the most burgers. The top three most popular burgers in each city (with the restaurants’ official descriptions) are listed below.
MONTREAL (32 participating restaurants):
Montreal winner Diablos’ Cheesus Burger
1) DIABLOS BBQ
The Cheesus Burger
Chicken Fried AAA Beef patty (burger patty dredged with fried chicken batter) served with a white wine cream drizzle, smoked ketchup, topped with bacon and a cream cheese sour cream coriander sauce in between two slices of baked Halloumi cheese; yes the cheese is the bun!
2) LE GOURMET BURGER
The Awesome Burger from LGB
Beef burger cooked on real wood charcoal, with sun-dried tomato pesto, smoked Gouda, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, arugula and tomatoes, in a freshly baked brioche bun (whole-wheat option too).
3) LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES OUTREMONT
Le Burger Terrible D’Outremont
Grilled salmon burger, house-made lemon mascarpone, watercress and red onion served on house brioche, accompanied by a salad of red cabbage and yellow beet, orange supreme and dill.
QUÉBEC (31 restaurants):
Le Quai 19′s Le Péché Mortel Burger
1) RIDEAU ROUGE
On rosemary bread, 6 oz. ground beef fresh daily, stuffed with mild Cheddar cheese, wrapped in Canadian bacon, flamed Ardbeg (ultra pure scotch and smoke 10 years. From the Isle of Islay in Scotland), grated sharp Cheddar, topped with a fried tomato with beer and accompanied by fresh lettuce.
2) LE QUAI 19
Le Péché Mortel
Black-beer brioche “mortal sin”, with barley grains and seeds of fresh hops; boudin blanc sausage in “White of Paradise” beer; trumpet mushrooms; onion carmaelized with “Snow” cider and the best tart apples on Île d’Orléans; mustard mayonnaise with apples, Elizabeth blue cheese; half toasted micro romaine lettuce tossed with tomato petals and smoked applewood-smoked candied boar bacon.
3) LES TROIS GARÇONS
Daily fresh bread from the Paillard bakery, double patty of ground beef AAA, 1608 Hercules cheese from Charlevoix dairy, fried and caramelized onions, artisanal bacon, BBQ Sauce with Maker’s Mark bourbon.
Luxe Burger Bar in Providence, R.I., has been a leader in creative burger crowd-sourcing. Its Build Your Own Burger contest’s third go-round received more than 200 submissions. The challenge: Create a burger masterpiece from a list of more than 45 ingredients already offered at Luxe, as well as two of each entrant’s own secret ingredients. Brilliant.
Banh Mi Burger
The Top 5 burgers, glossed below, are on the Luxe menu for September and will be judged at a Sept. 28, 2013, showdown. Criteria considered will be creativity, taste, edibility, ease of production, overall composition and the burger’s name. Final scoring is based on votes on Facebook and the restaurant’s home page, sales of each burger during the month of September and the experts’ opinions. The winning burger stays on the menu. Its creator gets a $500 gift card good at Luxe and parent Chow Fun Food Group’s other concepts. The five finalists:
Asian Potsticker Burger (Jennifer LaTour, Danielson, Conn.)
Oh Sweet Potato
Lean turkey, sautéed mushrooms, Asian slaw and potstickers on a sesame bun
Banh Mi Burger (Lisa Ratanaprasatporn, Providence, R.I.)
Lean turkey, jalapeňos, chipotle aïoli, pickled shredded daikon and carrots, and fresh cilantro on a sesame bun
Gyro (Justin Frohnhoefer, Providence, R.I.)
Ground lamb, fried mozzarella, iceberg lettuce, ripe tomatoes, smoked bacon, tzatziki, feta cheese in a wrap
Oh Sweet Potato (Helena Dunne, Providence, R.I.)
Gold Label beef, goat cheese, caramelized onions, smoked bacon, chipotle aïoli, sweet potato fries, and marshmallows on a classic bun
Traskmaster (Justin Trask, Quincy, Mass.)
Kobe beef, pepper-Jack cheese, iceberg lettuce, smoked bacon, horseradish mayo, fried pickles and fried jalapeňos on a classic bun