89.3 F
San Fernando
Friday, Jun 9, 2023

Well Done… Raring to Go

There’s a small San Fernando Valley restaurant trying to see if there is any room left on the gourmet-burger bandwagon. Eden Burger Bar opened a little more than a year ago with about 50 seats on a quiet, tucked away corner of Glendale. And after a successful first year, owner Erik Khojoyan has expansion on his mind. He’s looking for a larger and better located space in Glendale, perhaps North Hollywood or even downtown. Eventually, he envisions Eden outlets nationwide, financed by a private stock offering. “In restaurants, you have to take risks,” said the 36-year-old restaurateur. “But my business is my baby. I will grow it with all I have.” All that may seem wishful thinking – until a diner walks into his head-turning, 1,500-square-foot space at Verdugo Road and Chevy Chase Drive. The interior features booths with plush purple couches, a white leather padded wall and a massive colorful painting spanning 10 feet by 6 feet. Above, hangs crystal chandeliers and the name of the restaurant written in silver script on the ceiling. But it’s not all just razzle and dazzle. For the menu, Khojoyan teamed up with his executive chef, Steve Fair, who formerly worked at the ritzy BOA steakhouse in West Hollywood, and his sous chef, who goes by Chef Gev. The result is four-star reviews on Yelp despite waits that reach an hour during dinner hour. The beef burgers are made with 35-day dry-aged grass fed beef. And if that’s not your thing, check out the duck, lamb or boar burgers. The entrees won’t break the bank either, with burgers ranging from $10 to $12. The extensive wine list includes bottles of bubbly that cost more than $350, courtesy of a wine shop he owns next door. “My stuff is completely different,” he said. But despite the polished look and distinctive menu, Khojoyan has a big challenge ahead as the market for gourmet burgers is super saturated – and loaded with chains that have big money backing, such as Umami Restaurant Group LLC of Los Angeles and The Counter of Culver City. Angie Pappas, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association, said that Khojoyan’s strategy is smart, even if it doesn’t guarantee success. She noted burgers are still one of the most iconic American menu items. “Things aren’t completely wide-open, but there still a good shot for a place that distinguishes itself,” she said. A different take? Khojoyan opened his restaurant in May last year with one simple motivation: a love of burgers. “I eat burgers all the time and at all kinds of restaurants,” he said. “I never get tired of them.” Eden was financed mostly with proceeds from the Eden Wine and Spirits he opened next door four years ago. The 5,000 square-foot shop sells high-end wines, such as the $50 bottle of Carpe Diem Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, in addition to top-shelf vodkas and Scotches, as well as a 50-year-old brandy that can set you back up to $500. The entrepreneurial Khojoyan even sells a few varietals of a private label, which he gets from Vista Verde Vineyard in San Benito Canyon, near Hollister. The Eden space was previously occupied by a sandwich shop. Khojoyan said he spent 18 months renovating it once it became available, including building a direct connection to his wine shop, overhauling the kitchen and building a small patio. “There was nothing we kept. We had to upgrade everything.” said Khojoyan, who wouldn’t disclose his investment. As for the stunning interior, Khojoyan claims to have designed it alone, despite no prior experience. “Every piece of this restaurant, I found myself and put together,” he said. But Khojoyan perhaps takes most pride in his menu, which is inventive but also broad, with salads, sandwiches and pizzas. Take his Firehouse burger, which has spicy bacon, habanero jack cheese, giardiniera (an Italian pickled slaw), tomato, avocado and mayonnaise. Or the duck burger, served on a brioche bun with mango cranberry chutney, fried onions, Muenster cheese, caramelized pears and spicy chimichurri. But whether that’s enough to take a bite out of the market now dominated by Umami and The Counter is another story. Umami, with more than 15 outlets, has backing from hospitality mogul Sam Nazarian and his Los Angeles SBEEG Holdings LLC. The Counter was founded by Jeff Weinstein, who funded his startup about a decade ago on the money he made as former co-owner of Firefly, a Studio City restaurant and lounge. The Counter has more than 35 franchises, including a few in Europe and the Middle East. Investor risks And that’s not to mention the fast casual chains that offer burgers a clear level up from fast food, including Habit Burger Grill of Irvine and Five Guys Holdings LLC of Lorton, Va., which has quickly expanded to more than 1,000 franchises nationwide. For Khojoyan to compete at those levels, he knows the days of financing personally must end. “For us to go far with this, we will need to have investors,” he said. “That’s obvious.” But the risks would be obvious too for any savvy investor. 8 oz Burger Bar, an offering from former Top Chef Masters contestant Govind Armstrong failed on Melrose Avenue in 2011 and Burger Kitchen closed its only location on West 3rd Avenue last year. What’s more, Denver-based better burger chain Smashburger Master LLC, which has an outlet in Thousand Oaks, has been forced to close several locations. “We’re on the downward slope of this trend,” said Conrad Lyon, senior restaurant analyst at L.A. boutique investment bank B. Riley & Co. “This segment is just packed. I don’t know how many places they could really open.” That’s an analysis disputed by Pappas of the California Restaurant Association, who said naysayers have been wrongly declaring the better burger trend dead for months. “Gourmet burgers aren’t going anywhere,” she said. As for Khojoyan, he claims not be concerned about the trajectory for upscale burgers. In the near term, he would like to expand locally to communities, such as Pasadena and Silver Lake, and believes his quality food will win diners over. “This isn’t just a business, it’s a passion,” he said. “Burgers are 100 percent my future.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles