For Burger Lounge, taking the road less traveled is yielding delectable rewards
“It’s not easy being simple.” That admission from Burger Lounge CEO J. Dean Loring is sure to bring a knowing smile from anyone who’s attempted to follow Thoreau’s advice to “simplify, simplify.” In 2007, Loring’s desire to honor the body and the planet with truly scrumptious burgers made from great ingredients manifested in La Jolla, Calif., as the very first Burger Lounge.
The eco-friendly, fast casual chain is today a West Coast staple, with multiple restaurants throughout California as well as in Las Vegas. The ethos behind Burger Lounge concept is deceptively straightforward: to do a common thing uncommonly well. That mandate has inspired the company to innovate at every turn, creating elevated “better for you” indulgences that leave even the most ardent burger lover fully suffonsified. (Simply put? Satisfied.)
“The pandemic has made innovation an imperative in business, with both production brands and restaurant brands looking for ways to make consumers feel safer and protected with the food they’re producing,” noted Burger Lounge’s VP of Operations Services, Jason Grooms. “But we’re seeing there’s also a lot of innovation related to conscious consumption. When we first started in 2007, we were the original grass-fed burger. We put a lot into conscious eating at the time, but that's broadened over the last decade and a half to be consumption in general.”
The company is passionate about sourcing and working with ingredients that are healthful and easy on the planet and its food producers, for starters. Every piece of go-to packaging is either recycled or recyclable, food waste is composted whenever possible, and used cooking oil gets converted to biofuels. Tabletops are made from recycled water bottles. “Now we're looking at what we can do with our packaging and our prep procedures, not just with the things our guests can see, but in the kitchens and behind the scenes,” Grooms added.
This fall, the chain will debut its Flora and Fauna menu, a balance of dishes for carnivores, vegetarians, and vegans designed to bring new flavors and experiences to every kind of burger devotee.
“There have been fantastic vegan restaurants and vegetarian restaurants for a long time. We've got lots of them here in Southern California; and they’re very focused on just being vegan. It’s similar with the majority of restaurants that are meat or burger focused, any vegan recipe they add is a half-attempt. But we’re passionate about food in general and where it comes from, both responsibly sourced meat and plant-based recipes. We want to show how the food that everyone eats can be done in a way that's healthy for you and good for the planet,” he explained.
“Flora and fauna are venerated terms that, to us, elevate the food to a level that we feel gives it the respect it deserves. This is not just a component; these are not just basic ingredients you have to consume for it to sustain life. These are experiences and important plants and animals that come from somewhere and mean something.” As Grooms sees it, “meaning something”—as direct or oblique as that may seem—is essential to the success of Burger Lounge. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but our mission is to ‘get better every day at making people feel good.’ We recognize every day that we can do it a lot better. We get more packaging opportunities, more ingredient opportunities to make our food and business even cleaner than we are now, but because we love food so much and we're so passionate about it, we felt it was natural for all that to exist on the same menu.”
From the beginning, ethical and enduring vendor partner relationships have been essential to the Burger Lounge concept. “How our vendors do business means a lot to us, because how they do business and how they treat their products matters to us and to our customers, and it’s what we hang our reputation on,” Grooms said.
They recently partnered with Yolélé Foods, a company led by Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam, to supply fonio, a drought-tolerant West African grain that grows in some of the world’s poorest areas. It’s similar to quinoa but with a different flavor profile. Grooms describes the gluten-free, high-protein grain as the new “wonder” ancient grain. “Besides being delicious and a healthy grain, it helps the economy in areas that otherwise would have difficulty growing crops. That kind of message, that kind of work matters to us. We're not just trying to grab something ‘off the shelf’ and put it in front of our guests and call it eco-friendly or important. We really try to do our homework and get to the core of where our products come from.”
California’s restaurateurs have been clobbered by COVID, and Burger Lounge is no exception. When the state banned indoor dining, the company saw opportunities to innovate further. “The expectation of a seamless experience and of the interconnectivity between physically going into a restaurant and accessing the restaurant through an app or a kiosk is growing. Touchless experiences are a huge benefit for health, so we're trying to make that restaurant experience as seamless as digital experiences are and connect the two. That’s our big push for 2021 once the menus are out, to make that experience better.
“We believe in good food. We're a small company and everyone has a genuine passion for what we are doing. We’re genuinely in the kitchen all the time, and we feel like the makes us unique and different,” Grooms stressed. “We are genuinely what you see in our food. Our food is who we are.” It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Burger Lounge is an eco-conscious burger concept dedicated to using ingredients that taste great and honor the body and the planet. Founded in 2007 by J. Dean Loring and Michael Gilligan in La Jolla, California, Burger Lounge is built on the principle of “doing a common thing, uncommonly well,” an ethos that has been translated into each of the 23 locations throughout California and Las Vegas. For more information, please visit www.burgerlounge.com or call 619.549.6775. Follow them on Twitter at @Burger_Lounge, like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/burgerlounge and on Instagram at @BurgerLounge.
1917 India St., Suite C
San Diego, CA 92101