I was seeing some dealers in the northern Chicago suburbs on a recent trip there and I passed by a place at the corner of Lake St. and Milwaukee Ave. in Glenview that I hadn't noticed before - BurgerFi. My interest was piqued and it was time for dinner, so I circled back and stopped it to see what BurgerFi was all about.
It turns out that BurgerFi is a chain of upscale burger places based out of Florida. It was started in 2010 by three partners - John Rosatti, Lee Goldberg and David Manero. Rosatti was raised in a working class family helping his father work on boats. Using his mechanical know-how, Rosatti got into automobiles and opened a body shop in 1968. He parlayed his business acumen into buying an Oldsmobile dealership in Brooklyn, NY in 1975. Eventually, Rosatti's dealership grew into sixteen brands and he renamed it the Plaza Auto Mall - one of the largest auto dealerships in the nation. He expanded the Plaza Auto Mall into Nevada, Florida and New Jersey.
Pictured right - John Rosatti with ladyfriend Dawn Kimball. (Picture courtesy Newportseen.com) I'll save the editorial comment about the fact that money CAN buy you love.
Rosatti's first love was boats and he built 15 yachts including a 168 foot super-yacht that he still owns. He also began to dabble in the restaurant business opening such iconic South Florida eateries as Vic and Angelo's and The Office. His partner in the restaurants was David Manero, a longtime restaurateur in the South Florida area. Along with Lee Goldberg - who was a successful franchisee for both Wendy's and Popeye's Chicken - the three came up with the BurgerFi concept. They wanted to have burgers made-to-order with top quality, organically-grown Black Angus beef, French fries that are cooked in peanut oil, and using a number of locally grown toppings and ingredients in their food. (BurgerFi is short for burgerfication, a term the group came up with.)
Two years after opening their first BurgerFi location in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, FL, Rosatti and Goldberg sued David Manero (whose real last name is Mainiero) over charges of embezzlement and money laundering. Manero had suddenly split from the company a few months before and no one really knew the reason why until the lawsuit came public.
It was also alleged that Manero's son, who was expected to open a BurgerFi location in Southern California, had decided to open his own restaurant, Urbun Burger, instead of becoming a BurgerFi franchisee. Rosatti and Goldberg alleged that the younger Manero had taken all the equipment that was given to him by the group with the stipulation that it would be a BurgerFi and had not compensated the corporation. That lawsuit was eventually settled with the restaurant becoming a BurgerFi, but I couldn't find if the lawsuit against the elder Manero - who with actor Danny DeVito once owned DeVito's in South Florida until it closed in 2010 - had been resolved.
Today, with Rosatti as CEO and Goldberg's son as chief council, there are over 75 BurgerFi locations in over 20 states from Florida up the Eastern Seaboard with locations as far away as Anchorage, AK and Napa, CA. In the Midwest, there are BurgerFi locations in Kansas City, Lawrence, KS, Ann Arbor, MI and the one in Glenview, IL. The Glenview location opened in the summer of 2013 in the new Glenview Commons shopping area on the southeast corner of Lake St. and Milwaukee Ave. (see map) and is owned by developer Altaf Hemani and accountant Ahmed Lakhani.
The interior of the Glenview location has sort of a contemporary industrial decor with industrial-type lights handing from a metal ceiling, slat-wood paneling, with metal chairs and tables on a concrete floor. For as many lights that they had in the place, the lighting wasn't overpowering.
The concept is to order at the front counter, take a buzzer pager and get your food when you're paged. The menu is located on the wall above the open window to the kitchen and in addition to burgers, they also feature vegetable burgers at BurgerFi, as well as a 28-day-aged brisket burger, hot dogs - including a Kobe-beef hot dog and an apple/chicken hot dog - fries, onion rings and frozen custard shakes. I didn't know it at the time, but BurgerFi also has a secret menu - ala In-N-Out Burger - that includes a Supreme Burger with grilled mushrooms, bacon and American cheese, 1/2 + 1/2 burger with a beef patty and a vegetable quinoa burger patty, and alternative style fries that are smothered in cheese, grilled onions, mustard and a housemade sauce - BurgerFi sauce - that is basically a mayo-based sauce with 15 different spices and herbs added in.
I was met by a rather indifferent lady at the front counter and I noticed that their regular burgers were all doubles - flat grilled and thin. But you can also order your own "made-to-order" burgers - single, double or triple patties. Then you get your choice of four different cheeses and toppings such as Peter Luger steak sauce, organic ketchup, a fried egg, hickory-smoked bacon or grilled mushrooms for an upcharge. Toppings and condiments such as regular ketchup, yellow mustard, A1 steak sauce, jalapenos, garlic mayo, barbecue sauce and regular mayo could be added for free.
I ended up ordering a double burger with chopped onions, grilled mushrooms, Swiss cheese and bacon. They had a special that evening where I could get a regular order of fries at a reduced price. I thought, "What the hell..." and ordered up some of their fries. Then the lady asked me if I wanted any seasonings or toppings on the fries - cheese sauce, chili, chili and cheese, parmesan cheese and herbs, a spicy cajun seasoning, and sea salt and vinegar. I was about to tell her to put nothing on the fries when I thought about the cajun seasoning. When I asked about that, she very disinterestedly said, "I like the cajun seasoning..." Her overwhelming endorsement of the cajun seasoning - no matter how underwhelming it really was - was enough for me.
They also had a number of local and national microbrews on tap. I ordered up a Samuel Adams Winter Lager. When she told me how much it all was - $16 bucks with tax - I was a big taken aback. And that was with a reduced price on the fries and a $2.00 special on the beer that evening. I can almost imagine how much it would all cost if they didn't have the specials that evening.
I waited about 10 or 12 minutes sipping on my beer before the pager buzzer began to vibrate somewhat loudly on the metal-topped table. I went up to the counter to grab my platter of burger and fries. Ketchup and mustard were in container pumps on the side by the soft drinks and I poured some on my platter for the fries.
The first thing I noticed about the burger is that they brand the BurgerFi logo into the top of the bun. I thought it was a nice little touch, but nothing that added to the value of the burger. The burger was served in a small wax paper bag and was thick with chopped fresh onions and crispy bacon on top, and a lot of oozing Swiss cheese covering the burger patties and grilled mushrooms.
And the taste of the burger was not bad - pretty good, as a matter of fact. I'm not certain it was worth the money I paid for it, but it seemed to be a fine tasting burger. Everything went very well with one another on the burger and nothing seemed to overpower the other tastes. The bun was lightly grilled, but it was light and airy and held together very well with each bite. It was simply an above average - but not great - burger.
The fries, to me, were the highlight. The rather stoic counter person should have been more exuberant about the cajun seasonings on the fries. The seasoning had a nice kick, but not enough that it completely set your tongue on fire. On their own, the fries were very good - they were sort of that limp style of fries that had a bit of a greasy taste to them from the peanut oil they cook them in. With the cajun seasonings mixed in, the fries were out of this world. I usually don't get fries all that often with burgers, but I'm glad I went with the fries this particular evening.
BurgerFi is setting their sights on having upward of 250 outlets by the end of this year. All I can say is that you'll have to give one a try - that is, if you haven't already. While I thought the burger - for what I got - was a little overpriced, it was well above average in taste and quality. I wouldn't put it in the same league as a Five Guys, but they do hold their own in what is becoming a rather crowded landscape of upscale burger joints popping up around the Midwest and beyond.