Interview by Rebecca Harris
The gourmet burger market has exploded in the past few years, but as more players enter the fray, only a few survive. Morris Baker, co-owner, Burger Bar Crescent in Montreal, sat down with F&H to share his secrets to keeping his customers coming back for more.
F&H: How did your experience as a former Ben & Jerry’s franchisee help shape Burger Bar?
Morris Baker: My brother (and business partner) Ari and I explain it this way: there’s Häagen-Dazs and there’s Ben & Jerry’s. They make the same product, but they make it completely differently. When you think of Häagen-Dazs, you think of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. When you think of Ben & Jerry’s, you think of Cookie Dough, Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia. In the burger market, the people who came before us were like the Häagen-Dazs of the burger business. They were the smooth guys. We are the chunky guys. We’re outside the lines. We’re always thinking, ‘What else can we add to it? How can we make it more special?’
F&H: Why are “better burgers” so popular?
MB: It’s indisputable that people in North America like burgers. The innovators came along and taught people there was a better way to make [them]. You can get better quality meat, a better bun and better ingredients. And, once people were educated, it made room within the category for more competition. If you look at fast-food places, they’ve all slowly started to introduce their version of a better product, because consumers are now asking for it.
F&H: What’s your secret to success?
MB: We have this running line that we like to say: ‘Everything is made in-house. The only thing that’s frozen is the ice cream, and it’s Ben & Jerry’s.’ When we were building this restaurant, there were two restaurants [nearby] being built at the same time. Both of those restaurants are now closed…. In the end, we were adhering to our core philosophical values, while they were [buying things like] frozen fries and sauces.… We survived solely on the basis that we had amazing quality and people keep coming back.
F&H: Why is the better burger here to say?
MB: Burgers will be here forever, and if you make a good product, people will beat a path to your door…. During my 25 years at Ben & Jerry’s, I watched a lot of trends come and go. The pendulum would swing from full fat to low carb to low sugar. People’s tastes are constantly changing. If you’re a successful restaurant operator, you find a way to satisfy changing consumer needs without losing your values and philosophy.