New Independent Hamburger Chains Add Variety and Flavor

During the late seventies and early eighties I worked for Wendy’s hamburger chain, both as a manager and as the local St. Louis marketing guru. When I wasn’t managing stores, most of what I did was local store marketing. I also made some training videos. Nationally, it was the time of the “Burger Wars.” All of the fast food outfits were going at it with advertising that berated the other’s products. It was at that time that Wendy’s came out with its popular advertising campaign called “Where’s The Beef” featuring octogenarian Cara Peller.

Clara was deaf so they had to have one of the stagehands crawl up behind her out of camera view and tug on her skirt as a signal for her to yell “Where’s the Beef” as she was standing at a competitor’s restaurant counter looking down at an enormous bun.

The catchphrase became an instant classic that spread all over the United States. It even was used in one of the presidential campaigns of the time. I remember that the Wendy’s restaurants that I worked at got seven or eight calls a night where the person on the other end would yell “Where’s the Beef” into the phone and then hang up. After a while we just stopped answering the phone.

Now the Burger Wars have returned. Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, has been dead for some years now as well as Clara Peller, so Dave’s daughter Belinda (Wendy) is making the new commercials for “Dave’s Classic” hamburgers. For a while the fast food giants were on a health kick with salads and fruit in the kid’s meals. Then, because of the economy, mini and cheap was all the rage with small hamburgers and fries priced at 99 cents.

Now the monster burgers are back as everyone is trying to come out with the giant deluxe doubles and triples. Some chains have cut prices on these behemoths as well. Now I guess that they figure that people have been hurting so long that they need a lot of comfort food at a reasonable price to cope.

According to the Riverfront Times there seems to also be a boom in individual burger restaurants and smaller chains like “Five Guys.” The emphasis here seems to be what is called the “better burger” phenomenon. These burgers are all dressed up with all of the standard ingredients as well as extra bacon and stuff you wouldn’t think went on a burger like onion rings, fried pickles, or a fried egg.

Another good example of the “build a better burger” movement is “Smashburger.” This Colorado-based burger joint is a very sleek operation that has the subliminal ad words smash, savor, and sizzle splattered all over the walls. Talk about sell the sizzle, not the steak.

The obvious secret (it’s right in the name) is that Smashburger smashes their meat into a very thin patty and then cooks it over an open grill. The result is a lot like Steak and Shake, but more charcoal flavored. The fries are also thin just like Steak’s but it’s better if you opt for the Smashfries. These are their regular fries except these are roasted and then dashed with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary.

Some other New Wave hamburger joints worthy of a try include: Jim Hanifan’s It’s a Better Burger, Christy’s Hamburgers, and Dave and Tony’s Premium Hamburger Joint,

Whether or not any of these burger places will ever give McDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s a run for their money who knows? But I compare these burgers to craft beers. They may not ever outsell McDonald’s, but what they lack in volume they definitely make up in variety and flavor.


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