It’s February 13th 2019, and the NY Islanders are in first place in the Metro. How did we get here, what do burgers have to do with it, and what does that mean in terms of where are we going?
What are we gonna be?
I look at this as a process that began in June of 2008. That’s when Garth Snow started building a steakhouse out of what was a LI Diner. Garth didn’t have the budget or the staff to support the expansive menu of a classic dinner, whose biggest attraction is giving everybody in the most eclectic party of 10 a menu choice. He was going to focus on the three things that make a great steakhouse; steak/offensive talent, wine/defensive talent and service/goaltending. He was going to have to do this all through the draft, because in that period, and through his whole tenure he had very limited access to quality UFAs. Maybe the best UFA he signed from outside the organization was the bottle of Mark Streit vintage 2008.
Building A Franchise Without A Building
He was given 10 years to build a clientele. There was some success, but even though he had some very good years of fine aged beef, he was never able to accumulate a top notch wine list and a four star staff. By the time the wine was ready, his beef distributor was failing to deliver, and staff was harder to keep, and keep happy every year.
This could best be exemplified by the 2015-18 seasons. In 15-16 they had just about everything working. He had added a decent wine list with Leddy and Boychuk with affordable bottles of deHaan and Hickey. Their beef was coming into their own with Tavares, Okposo, Bailey, Lee and Nielsen topping the menu selections… and when their head waiter went out for a smoke, Thomas Greiss made sure that all the entree’s were served accurately and hot.
The Terrible Twos
It’s hard to keep that going. In 2016-17 they lost a good portion of their aged beef in Okposo, Nielsen, and Matt Martin. By the time they fixed most of the problems that caused the head chef was let go. A little kick in the pants and some freeing up of some offensive aggressiveness got them to within a point of the playoffs. Maybe the worst thing that could have happened.
In 2017-18 the former sous chef was handed the kitchen… good lord was that a mistake. It was fine as long as everything remained the same, but the whole place became a nightmare as soon as the first problem arose… and there were plenty of secondary problems to follow. It was time to end the dream of having a Ruth’s Chris franchise.
The Meat Grinder
The one thing a good restaurateur knows is how to take inventory, find a market, and make corrections before they lose their business.
The first thing they did was hire a new manager, Lou Lamoriello. Lou said, “we are not a steak house… and I don’t want to be a steak house”. Lou had built one of the better burger joints in the northeast, and he knew that Snow had accumulated enough beef to make it work.
Burger Meister, Meister Burger
Lou then replaced his chef with a guy who knew burgers, and how to put together a top notch burger menu. The biggest transition was trading in a few cases of wine, for six taps of the finest craft beer.
Classes Starting In October
Then it was time to prepare the staff. If you have the right menu, servicing the customer is basically about making sure everything is delivered correctly, hot, and with the proper attitude. Mitch Korn and the Piero Greco may be the best trainers in the business.
When it was time for Lou to re-stock he didn’t look for the most expensive prime beef, he went out and got the best burger cuts money could buy.
USDA Prime Chuck
You wouldn’t find Komarov, Filppula and Kuhnhackl on the menu at Morton’s. They were staples at Lou’s Burger Barn. These were guys you could stuff with assorted cheeses and wrap with bacon and make world class burgers. They were easy to prepare, and they would pair nicely with the beer inventory you had, and you were building.
Stake And Shake
Lou first previewed this new direction in October to mixed reviews. Most of the folks who had gotten used to the decent steaks rejected a burger platform. In fact, pub food made some point their nose in the air and walk away.
Not for long. Nobody can resist the smell of a good bacon double cheeseburger with some jalapeno washed down with a tasty lager and served by two vets who know how to keep the customer happy. Well maybe a vegan… but those kinda people ate in Manhattan anyway.
Winner Winner Wimpy’s Dinner
So here we are. It’s February and we have the best burger joint in the league. What do we add to the menu?
It may be more important to keep the meat distributor happy by signing Lee, Nelson and Eberle. There is also the fact that one of your waiters is making minimum wage. These are the things that need to be addressed to keep Lou’s Burger Barn in business for a few more years.
I have a feeling Lou’s is finally pointed in the right direction. The inventory has transitioned well. The guy is out there looking for new meat and ales are doing a fine job, and the wait staff under proper training seems to be in great shape.
I’ll take a Killer Bee burger (Jalepeno stinger and a touch of honey BBQ sauce), with a tall (25oz) Toews IPA Mr. Lehner if you please.
* Sorry Mike. You gotta beLIeve, but I gotta be me.