This is a series of Trenval Success Stories, stories to which the local CFDC has helped to create jobs. See more on Trenval’s programs at http://trenval.on.ca
With a powerfully bold manifesto that proclaims ‘Give the People What They Want. Give the People Flavour. Stay Hungry and Join the Revolution,’ Belleville’s Burger Revolution has become a true popular phenomenon as an eatery.
The utilization of the nomenclature and iconography of various historic revolutionary movements, Burger Revolution cut through the clutter of fast food and chain restaurant brands like a peasant’s scythe through a wheat field, was also phenomenally clever and impactful marketing.
Owners and chefs Jeff and Rayling Camacho both have extensive experience in all aspects of fine dining establishments from the kitchen to the front of house. After working in Toronto for a bit, Jeff had moved to the Niagara region and that’s where he met Rayling who was working as a server/manager and had also done a few tours of duty in the kitchen.
After getting married, like any young couple with talent, ambition and a prodigious work ethic, the idea of opening a business – a food service business in particular – soon became a priority. But interestingly, Jeff always seemed to have an extra level of interest and passion in making burgers – which the layperson usually doesn’t think of as a gourmet comestible.
“People would say to me, ‘cook me something’ and the first thing off the top of my head was burgers. I always wanted to do a food truck and I always had a thing for burgers and for years I had this file tucked away on my laptop with ideas for burgers that I was always adding to, not really knowing what I was going to do with it. And once we kind of decided to do some sort of burger joint around early 2012 things really snowballed from there,” he explained.
“The place that became our main location [300 North Front] used to originally be a tuxedo place and then it turned into a barbecue joint. We knew about it and then after we got back from a mini-vacation we saw that all the windows had been papered up and was closed down. We wondered what happened because the food was pretty good, but I guess it wasn’t marketed properly. We contacted the owner and he said he just wanted to get rid of it and we kind of swooped in and took the place over. Basically, we left whatever was in there and just added some colour and a new menu. When we signed the lease we took a look at what was here in terms of ingredients that we could still use and the equipment and based our initial menu on that.”
Jeff and Rayling did a whirlwind tour of a few key cities to check out what the latest trends were in the gourmet burger scene and were flabbergasted by what they found in Chicago.
“Everyone else around here was doing flat-top burgers [fried on a flat metal cooking surface] but we had a grill because that’s what the previous owner had and we figured that would be the way to go and Chicago just really brought that idea home for us. They had pretzel buns and nobody up here in Canada had the pretzel bun. Everyone in Chicago was doing grilled burgers, and hardly anybody was doing that here,” he said, adding that he knew right from day one that his burgers needed to be superior and unique in every way to the common fare in the familiar mid-level chains and fast food places.
“We wanted to show that a burger could be gourmet but you didn’t have to pay ultra-fine dining prices for it. If it tastes good and tastes different, people will come back. What sets us apart, really, is that 85 per cent of what is on the menu is made in house, which fits in with our manifesto which is to celebrate the community. From our beef to our cheese and vegetables, it’s all sourced locally. We cut and grind our meat every morning and the burgers are formed every night, so every burger is fresh, never frozen. We have become famous for our basic Revolution burger, as well as The Rebel, The Propaganda, and The Solidarity.”
The menu features an array of burger options to suit every palate and most dietary restrictions or lifestyle choices.
“We have gluten free options and our restaurant is vegetarian friendly. People who are celiac or choose not to eat meat should be able to get good, tasty food here. We didn’t want anybody to not be able to eat here. If it’s possible, we will do everything we can to accommodate everyone. And that’s part of our overall commitment to having excellent, friendly service. My teachers and the best chefs I worked with always said if you can help someone out and make their dining experience better, then do it. It’s what you’re supposed to do; we’re in the service industry, so do your best to do everything you can to make the customer experience better. And, honestly, we love the challenge of trying to meet everyone’s unique needs and tastes. It’s something we are very proud of, that we can do anything on the fly if people ask us,” Jeff said.
Good food will help bring people to your door to some degree, but in a culture inundated with dining out options on every media platform, forging a unique, definitive brand can be a tough thing, especially in the restaurant business. So the Camachos reached out to Belleville marketing firm They Integrated Inc.
“We already knew them and when they found out we were doing a burger joint they asked us, ‘do you want it to me a mom and pop kind of place where it’s only known in Belleville, or is this something you would want to expand all over the country?’ Of course I said I wanted it to be as popular as possible and maybe create more franchises. They asked us to give them a copy of the menu and descriptions of the types of burgers and other things we were going to do, including poutine. They showed us five possible names, but they all said they preferred Burger Revolution. They said everybody is used to plain and boring burgers but every time they looked at our menu it made them think of a revolution of flavours,” Jeff said.
Using imagery that conjured up images of the striking propaganda posters and graphics used by the former Soviet Bloc, to Cuban revolutionaries like Che Guevara, to American Civil Rights leaders and even Napoleon, everything from the logo, to the colour scheme to the names of many of the food items all fit within this clever brand. The four signature burgers mentioned previously are prime examples.
“The concept was on the tips of our tongues. We couldn’t really put it into words but they really tapped into that and came up with something amazing. It was bold and it was there in your face that this was going to be a different kind of burger joint. For some of the items on the menu, they actually gave us some names and we mixed and matched the flavours we felt would go with that name. So They has been an important part of our team; They created our website and all our social media stuff. Any time we need something, They are always there to deliver for us.”
Five years on, Burger Revolution has become a destination for burger aficionados far and wide, it has been featured on the Food Network, has earned tons of praise on social media and many online kudos including having the best burger in Ontario according to Days Out Ontario.
But there was still the niggling notion of having a food truck. And this is where the friendly and helpful folks at the Trenval Business Development Corporation come in. In order to open what amounted to a second restaurant, although one on a smaller scale and mobile, it not only required purchasing and outfitting a food truck which they were already in the process of doing, but also creating more storage space for perishable food on the site of the current restaurant on Front Road.
“People had been saying for years that we should open up another location, but it’s hard to do another brick and mortars thing if you don’t have investors. It’s still just my wife and I’s business and we are happy with the size and didn’t want any more owners. We have never thought of a loan and we have never had a loan since we opened, but we needed a boost,” said Jeff.
The Camachos applied for a significant five-year loan from Trenval which allowed them to build more storage space and acquire the food truck, which has been up and running since late May.
“We needed more space and there was nowhere for us to expand within the current building, so we looked at it and built an external walk-in fridge outside of Burger Revolution. And we also used the loan to get a display fridge for the restaurant because people wanted to buy our home-made condiments and we also started selling picnic packages of our burgers so people can take them to the cottage and grill them themselves. Trenval really helped us with this expansion, so we could do all of it at once and really take things up a notch. If we didn’t have this walk-in fridge then it would have been a lot tougher to operate the food truck and it would have taken a lot longer to expand the restaurant And the loan is over a five-year term, which is perfect for us. It couldn’t have worked out better,” he said.
The Burger Revolution food truck will be at various community functions and events on weekends. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays over the summer, it can be found in the parking lot at the Foodland grocery store in Foxboro.
“We have been very lucky in that there haven’t been a lot of challenges for us. I mean, even on our first day we sold out and had to close our doors early. It was busy right out of the gate. I think it’s a testament to not only our food but our customer-first manifesto and our hard work. I really don’t know what the secret to our success has been other than I do know that once you taste our burgers, you won’t settle for anything else,” he said, adding that he has nine equally dedicated and committed staff members who help to fulfill that manifesto.
For more information on Burger Revolution, or to check out their menu, visit www.burgerrevolution.ca, or just drop by at 300 North Front Rd., Mondays from noon to 7 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.