23 Jan The Grass Fed Burger King
J Dean Loring, founder of Burger Lounge, is a S.O.B.
– son of a butcher. Why, what were you thinking?
by Mark Castellino
In fact he’s a GSOB he says proudly. The grandson of a butcher, he was raised in the beef industry, and it was only natural that the quest to perfect the hamburger became his obsession. Why a burger I ask him, and not a taco or pizza? “It’s the perfect meal,” he laughs. His Dad told him that it was everything you could want in a meal – protein, grain, fruit (since we all know tomatoes are fruit), and vegetable.
He opened his first grass-fed, hand-crafted burger bar in 1988. At that time it was a strange concept. 60 years ago it wasn’t. All beef was grass-fed because cattle were fed on a natural diet of grass. They are ruminants – that’s what they do. Eat grass. Along came the corn industry and cattle bred for slaughterhouses, so of course the cheapest diet became grain.
There are 14 billion burgers consumed each year. The burger industry is a huge one, with low margins, fast delivery and an easy to understand concept.
Data from food industry analyzer Technomic, carried on the website of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says that, in 2008, commercial restaurant operators bought 5.4 billion lbs. of beef. The U.S. Census estimates the country had roughly 304 million residents that year, meaning each person in the nation consumed an average of 7.64 lbs. of quick-serve restaurant beef.
So why grass-fed? Dean says not only does grass-fed taste better – it is more natural and also ‘good’ for you. It’s high in Omega 3, Linoleic Acid, which is thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks, and it is high in Vitamin E. And there is less saturated fat. You should actually feel pretty good about eating at Burger Lounge.
The beef itself, comes from two ranches that are family owned and run along a strict and humane code of ethics. The beef for the Brentwood restaurant comes from Sun Fed Ranch in Northern California, where the owners have been cattle farming since the 1800s.
There are now eleven Burger Lounges, four in Los Angeles, with Brentwood being the newest. And none are the same, he says. The designs are constantly refined to give the best customer dining experience. They make an effort to raise the concept from just a fast food chain to a great casual dining experience. Your table is cleared, there are endless drink refills and you get fresh pepper at your table.
Why is the brand different? Dean explains it’s due to the fact that they keep things simple. It’s gimmick free, authentic, genuine and healthy. The whole menu is limited so that they can concentrate on delivering value. He says they have great vegetarian options that are really healthy and delicious, and not just served as a gesture for vegetarians. The ingredients are mostly organic and the dressings are house made every day. The level of service is well thought and exceeds guests expectations.
The natural aspect is carried through to the Green Certification that they hold. The table tops are made from recycled soda bottles, the tiles are recycled, the lighting is LED, the cooking oil converted to biodiesel. It’s a wide-ranging philosophy that guides his original vision.
And will grass-fed become the norm, I ask? Well, in 2006 the awareness was limited he says. Now it’s more widely accepted and he believes awareness will grow as people taste the difference.
When it comes to a good hamburger, Americans definitely are not careless eaters. A 2009 report indicated that 75% of burger-lovers rank the quality of the meat as the first or second most important attribute to their burger. Second in line was toppings, ranked either first or second place by 42% of consumers. Even though the affordability of the burger is considered, high-quality ingredients are still key in producing a successful burger franchise.
Even during the recession, Americans want to take their families out for a hamburger outing every once in a while. Statistics show that nearly 50% of consumers purchase burgers from fast food restaurants at least once every three weeks, and approximately 21% of people chomp down at a fast casual chain at least once a month. However, to counter this restaurant hopping habit, the number of burger-eaters who make their own burgers once a week has increased by 3% since 2007.
Americans are eating more burgers and better burgers, according to a new report from food industry consulting firm, Technomic. Half of Americans now eat burgers at least once a week–up from 38% in 2009. And many are squeezing more burgers even into non-meal times: 20% say they regularly eat a burger as a mid-afternoon snack, and 10% say they sometimes nosh on a late-night burger.
The report also indicated that consumers are increasingly interested in new varieties of burger. It recommended that burger vendors try swapping out “standard ground beef” for Angus beef, turkey and vegetables to meet consumer demand for those sectors. Technomic also noted that Americans are becoming more open to “exotic” toppings and flavors: guacamole, chipotle, pineapple, herbs.
One factor that may be driving both these trends is consumers’ willingness to pay more for their burgers. The surveyed burger-eaters put taste and convenience before price when they ranked the influential factors in their choice of burger. Indeed, the survey noted that these sorts of restaurants are quickly gaining market share previously held by McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.
Findings show that quality is key when it comes to burgers. Fifty-one percent of consumers cited that it’s highly important that their burgers are made from never-frozen beef, which is up from 43% two years ago. Also, 55% of consumers seek menus that specify the type of beef used, which is an increase from 48% in 2011. Further, nearly two-thirds of consumers think build-your-own burger concepts are appealing and 64% say they feel that the ability to customize burger toppings and condiments is important. Data also revealed that interest in special diets, driven by young consumers, is continuing to grow. More than a fifth of all consumers who eat burgers citing that gluten-free (23%), vegan (23%) and vegetarian (22%—up from 18% in 2011) burger options are important.
How does Burger Lounge keep the prices so low if the meat is organic and grass-fed, I ask? After all, at $7.95 the Classic burger is on par with the cost of lesser burger chains. Simple ingredients sourced well. That and the fact that they have a tremendous partnership with the ranches that supply the meat. In fact they probably are the largest purchaser of grass-fed beef in the country, and that brings a great degree of purchasing power which they pass on to the customer. We never raised prices, he said, even though we made better deals and sourced fresher ingredients.
After twenty years, Dean Loring seems to have achieved his quest to make the perfect burger. Let’s hope Burger Lounge succeeds in its organic growth, and that Dean continues to educate our palates in his natural manner. •
11740 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049