It's been a whole year since hamburglar Adam Biderman and his Company Burger crew have set up shop on Freret Street, effectively raising the bar for burger-making in New Orleans and winning over a whole host of Uptown devotees despite an early abhorrence for lettuce and tomato. Biderman, a fine-dining vet (he previously worked at Herbsaint, not to mention a long-term gig Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta), had visions of a humble, one-trick burger joint sleepily flipping burgers on the recently bustling Freret Street, but all that changed after a serendipitous Times-Pic write-up and an early week of relentless new business. Now, after a year of refining his operation to accommodate the crush of new and returning patrons, Biderman has settled in just blocks away from where he went to high school (Newman) and is doing justice to America's most venerable meal.
At one year in, how's business going?
Business is great. We're growing, we're busy and we've had a great response to the food. The team is better now, obviously, than it was a year ago. They're just killing it. They're putting out some great food.
How much of that success do you attribute to the recent burger trend, both in and beyond New Orleans?
Well, I don't really see what we've done as being part of a trend. I'd been thinking about doing something like this for a while, and it just kind of coincided with what a few other people were trying to do. It just took a little bit of time for the new wave of burger-making to come down to New Orleans. I'd like to think that we were a huge part of that, along with some of the other places that have recently opened up. Obviously, I think most of our success comes from the fact that we execute a very focused product that's very delicious. The timing worked out very well. So, it did all hit here at the same time.
But I don't ever believe that burgers are a trend. Burgers are America. It's what we do. It just so happened that a bunch of guys caught on at the same time about wanting to do burgers a certain way.
Can you trace the origins of this 'new wave' of burger-making?
The new thinking of burgers really started maybe 10 years ago. Burgers are America, this is what we do as a country?it's one of the most unique, iconic food items. Probably 10 or 12 years ago, some guys in New York were like, "We're going to put a nicer, fancier burger on our menu." And it kind of spawned this whole wave of thinking. Very few people have pinpointed the genesis of the whole craft. It goes back to putting casual things on fine-dining menus to bring in new guests and to make things more affordable. What better way to do that than with a delicious cheeseburger?
You've got a lot of guys like me who've done fine-dining their whole lives, or understand the principles and concepts behind fine-dining. They've created restaurants with all of that attention to detail, and just offered it at a more affordable price. They kind of brought it down for everyone, that same detail and that same quality. And that's what I feel we do with our burgers?we put as much thought and as much detail into one burger as any plate of food at any fine dining restaurant I've ever worked at. And my team feels the same waylthey've all been in fine dining as well.
What's it like to transition from a more fine-dining atmosphere to a way more casual place?
First of all, it's a lot more fun. Being in that part of the industry for so long, you realize how much is at stake on a single fine-dining plate?I was working at $45 plate restaurants. It's not that it's not fun, but it's a different way of thinking that you maybe don't want to have all the time. I care about every single cheeseburger that goes out because I understand what goes into it. Our goal as owner operators is to make sure that everyone who works in that kitchen deals with it the same way, but at the same time we wanted to have more fun. We wanted to have a little bit of a different approach to how we managed our guys and girls, and we wanted the energy in our kitchen to permeate the dining room. And that in turn makes the experience for everyone more fun. We play music a little too loud, we laugh a little too loud. Everyone behind that counter, and everyone in the front of the house too, I mean, we're all clicking and having fun, but still maintaing a very serious attention to our food. The energy comes out of the kitchen.
What's it like to be part of the Freret Street revival?
I mean it's everything. I'm from here. I'm born and bred in New Orleans. I went to Newman. I literally work six blocks away from where I spent a good 13 years of my life. This is where I grew up, so I saw Freret Sreet everyday. We went to Dunbar's for lunch even when our parents told us not to. So it was one of those things where sometimes you just didn't go on Freret St., but we didn't even think about it because we were kids, Every neighborhood has issues in this town. To see the businesses come back, and hopefully to be a part of that, that's what I wanted when I was thinking about what the restaurant was going to be like. Coming back to Freret, we saw the opportunity here with everything that came before us, with Zeus' Place opening and Cure. I mean, Neal [Bodenheimer] is a trailblazer in terms of food and beverage.
I just wanted to be on this street because I felt like it had a ton of energy, a ton of positive energy, and people on this street in particular said, "Yes." There are so many places in New Orleans where people say, "No," and they have every right to. We want more business and more people to come here. We want people who live in this neighborhood to have better lives, to improve the neighborhood around us.
Were there any early hiccups, things you had to sort of change on the fly?
Well, I changed just about every single system I had in terms of service. Expediting service was pretty much thrown out the door the very first day. We had a big Twitter following, and there was this great article in the Times-Pic about Freret St. coming back, which came out on Thursday (we had opened on Wednesday). We just got slammed, and here I thought we were going to be this humble little burger joint serving this one cheeseburger that nobody could get anything else on but what we already had on it. It was this crazy thing?people literally called me crazy when I was telling them what I was going to do. People like my dad. They'd say, "Wait, so you're going to serve a burger without lettuce and tomato, without different kinds of cheese, and the only thing you can put on it is bacon or egg? No one's gonna care?they want what they want. They want a burger."
And I said no, I have a different opinion, I believe differently. I think that it's going to be good. The response was phenomenal, but we weren't prepared. I thought, for instance, that three garbage cans that got picked up four days a week was adequate. We filled those three cans up within the first six hours and I thought, "Oh shit, we need more garbage service." We were going to take it easy, initially, take the time to grow, but it wasn't like that at all?it was relentless from the get-go.
All our plans changed within the first 36 hours. Everything just started coming to the middle and you could see it changing and growing right in front of your eyes. It was crazy, but it was cool to watch. The guys we had here were awesome.
Do you expect that huge volume now?
It depends. Our business has been pretty consistent, which is awesome. We have a pretty good baseline expectation of what we're going to do on the weekends. We figured with football season, not as many people were going to show up, but Sunday and Saturday are our two best days, year-round. There are so many places closed on Sunday, so it makes sense. I kind of feel like a burger joint should be open, that burgers should be available on Sunday. You know, you're a little hungover, so let's make a nice cheeseburger to help you out.
What are some of your favorite burger places in the city?
We would always have football practice on Saturday mornings, and afterward we'd go to Camellia Grill. Camellia Grill was one of those originals. I'd say that the three originals I grew up eating, depending on our moods were Camelia Grill, Bud's Broiler and, if I was out in Metairie, Lee's. Those are definitely my top three.
Camellia Grill just seems like one of those institutions...
Oh, it is. You don't get places like that very often. I remember I'd had a busy day at Herbsaint and all I wanted in the world was Camellia Grill. I got a cheeseburger with sautéed onions with fries and a chocolate freeze, and I felt like I was back in high school again. This was before I even had the restaurant. It's why I wanted to do cheeseburgers because a cheeseburger is one of the most satisfying things you can ever eat on the face of the planet.
The Company Burger [Official Site]