Adam Biderman, the reigning burger king of New Orleans, is opinionated. But that's exactly what one should hope for in terms of the leader of a homegrown burger empire. Biderman's vision of a perfect griddled burger, The Company Burger, has taken the city by storm since debuting four years ago, and though he sometimes blurts out things like "I barely know how to run this place. I'm surprised we're still here..." the Freret Street fave is about to expand to the South Market District's upcoming Paramount building, one of the hottest coming attractions of 2015.
Here, Biderman talks everything from the bane of the corn hog, to New Orleans burger icons and dream of beer trucks and yard games at the upcoming location of Company Burger.
After relaunching the corn hog at Hogs, have you added it back to the menu?
No. No cornhog. We're not going down that road. You know why I took it off? People don't typically read menus. They always thought it was a corndog, not a corn hog. It is confusing. They would eat this corn hog, and it would be nothing but pork belly, which is half fat, half meat typically. I would choose the meatiest ones I could find. To be fair, there were some people that didn't appreciate biting into the pork belly at all. So we took it of the menu. We do it in August for our birthday, or for Hogs or other events. You can't just serve corn hogs all day.
Let's talk cheese. On your Company Burger what type of cheese do you use?
American. Always American. It's melty, creamy, everything a cheese should be for an American cheeseburger. I mean, obviously, there's a lot of people who argue that point, but it's just a matter of preference. The meltability and what it brings to a cheeseburger, in particular a griddled burger, I think it's vastly superior.
Now if you're on a grill or at Houston's getting a hickory burger—Bud's does the cheddar on it—I prefer cheddar on a burger that's grilled.
What do you prefer, a burger that's griddled or grilled?
I prefer my burger. I'll take a burger off a flat top any day of the week.
During Burger Week 2013, you said you weren't such a fan of just dumping everything and the kitchen sink on a burger. Are there any new burger trends, especially in New Orleans, that you're for or against right now?
Four years in, i'd like to think i've learned to tide my opinions in regards to what everyone else in the city is doing. I'll try to focus on the positive. I'm trying not to be a shit starter. It's very hard. Because I am very opinionated. You know, in terms of burgers, I feel like we've plateaued a little bit.
I'd like to see more po' boy burgers. We've toyed around with it. The only reason we haven't done it is because it requires lettuce and tomato, so we're trying to find a work around. It's not that I'm against lettuce and tomato. I'm against shitty iceburg lettuce. I'm not going to pay six dollars a pound for my beef and put a head of iceburg on my sandwich.
Doesn't that deplete the idea of a po' boy burger then?
That's why we're trying to find the work around. We make this slaw, a jalapeno coleslaw. My baker makes delicious French bread, Leidenheimer not withstanding. So we're trying to find that work around.
You just added milkshakes at Company Burger.
Yeah, malted vanilla with Steen's cane syrup is the signature. Vanilla makes the chocolate better. Malted chocolate is my personal favorite, but not a lot of people like malt. We have strawberry, and a District Hand Pie Vietnamese coffee.
I found a co-packer that works with a lot of fast food companies and large companies. They make something to the spec of these other companies, so I called them, which is very rare that an end user calls somebody like that. But I love doing that, because it kind of freaks them out. It shows them that I'm very serious. I started this relationship with the sales rep of this company, who is super nice, and was just like...we don't mind working with you, so long as we can find someone that can handle the product properly when it comes in. So my meat purveyor, Natco—I have a great relationship with them, obviously—agreed to bring the product in. It's shelf stable for a year, but we've already used half of it in three and a half weeks. It's a 10% butterfat vanilla soft serve. Places Sonic and Dairy Queen, they use a 4.5-5% butterfat low fat milk, and that's why they taste like that. There's a suggestion of richness and then it kind of disappears. Ours is 10% butterfat, which makes a really dense and almost elastic soft serve ice cream, and that's what we use for the shake, because it makes the thickest most delicious shake. The texture is so amazing.
How did you end up doing a District Hand Pie Vietnamese coffee shake?
Chris [Audler] is a friend. He used to be at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. Before that, he was Houston's (corporate). He is a very honest and thoughtful person. We just developed a relationship. He'd always pick my brain when he was here, and he'd bring me coffee, which is pretty much the best way to get me to talk to you—bring me iced coffee. I'm really glad to see that they're doing, like, really gangbusters well. In the beginning, I was like, you want to do sliders, donuts, AND third wave coffee? You're insane. I didn't know what it would look like.
How did you decide on your expansion to The Paramount?
We had a conversation about 18 months ago that they were pre-leasing and all this, and it really wasn't the time for us. We were just kind of seeing our first big boom and exponential rise in business. [When Biderman first considered expanding] It was about 2012 or 2013. We were two years in, and I think that's when people started to calm down and understand what we were really about. In the beginning everyone was very angry with us, for about a year.
That's how I felt about it. We fought a lot of battles, in a good way. We were doing something that really wasn't normal New Orleans mainstream thought. And that's great. People should always be challenging how we think of food, the way of doing things. That's the great thing about New Orelans now, is there's a lot of people challenging things. We win as consumers and guests and people who eat.
I honestly didn't think the timing was right until about 6 months ago. We'd been looking at a spot and it fell through. The owner wanted to do something different with the property, which is totally fine. And I was like, you know what...South Market was a little more fleshed out. The Civic had opened. We just kind of knew what was going to happen. It became very exciting very quickly. It was a fifty-six page lease. Here, my lease is fourteen pages. So it's a totally different thing. As an independent operator you're always able to determine your fate and destiny, and here [on Freret], there's a lot of rules. And I'm not a big rule guy. I don't like being told what to do.
What will be some of the major differences between the two CoBu locations?
We're the last restaurant you walk by before you get to the Super Dome, so how much fun is that gonna be? I have a fifteen seat bar. 24 beers on draft. I feel as if this is the proof of concept here [on Freret] , and that will be the fully flushed out version of it. With a huge bar and a bit of a scene and people hanging out. I don't know. I just think it's going to be really fun.
Is there more seating?
It will seat twenty more people, maybe thirty. There will be outdoor seating, as much as I can put. I've already got the support letter from the landlord for outdoor patio space. In the front on Girod, and then I could probably fit forty seats down that wall.
Are you trying to do more Saints-oriented service, with televisions and all that?
I think we strike a balance here [on Freret] between sports bar and restaurant. You're always going to see the big game. We'll always have that on, unless one of my sous chefs wants to be an idiot and piss people off by showing a wrestling tournament.
But no, there will be three TVs and we'll kind of straddle that line. It would be great if people want to come down and party and tailgate, or stay and watch the whole game. I really don't know what to expect. We're going to play it by ear.
Will you do cocktails?
We'll do four or five cocktails. Nothing super crazy. I'm not a big labeling person. I don't like to label and tell anyone we're doing 24 craft beers and thirty more craft beers in cans. We're going to have stuff that's delicious, stuff that we all enjoy. It could be PBR. It could be Sierra Nevada. It could be whatever the hell we want to drink that week. As long as it will be good and delicious with food.
What's your projected opening?
Supposedly it went to permitting this week. I have a meeting with my contractor today, so, he'll tell me if they really mailed everything off to the city. I figure three or three and a half weeks turn around with the city. We should be in construction by the middle of May. That puts us around late July, I hope.
Any other cool new concepts for the new CoBu?
It's a blank space, so that's pretty fun. The plan I hope to be able to build into—it's an expensive proposition—but what I want to look at doing very soon after we open is putting in ...I have a friend that does really good artificial turf instillation, like the kind the Super Dome uses. I want to put in a small sliver and do yard games there. Ladder ball and corn hole. Have that be about thirty feet. It would be amplifying that whole tailgating thing out there. There's been a trend in the country in the last few years of bocce ball courts and things to do while you're waiting for a table, waiting for a cocktail, all that type of stuff. Not that I think people will be out there in July playing ladder ball in a tanktop, but it'll be there. If you want to drink a pitcher of beer and play some yard games. Really it's all about what our staff likes doing.
How big is your staff right now?
How many will you add?
35. It's seven days a week. Five or six people a shift, and three managers. It's a big staff. I mean, it effectively doubles the size of our company.
Do you still get on the line these days?
I feel like it's important that part of being an owner is stepping away. My presence is still felt. I'm here everyday until 6. I see everyone for each shift. I watch them make burgers and all of that. Brandon and Nina and Joe, they've been with me since day one. They're phenomenal people, and phenomenal managers, and that really is the strength of every company. I can't do everything. I wish I could. This place is more of a story about them right now than it is about me.
Do you have plans to expand after the second location?
Possibly. We'll see how number two goes. I'm really anxious to get number two going. I'd love to get a bar menu in there going. I'd love to be able to flex a little more culinary muscle. You know, you could go down the pantheon of fry-related arts and be like, let's have a fried food happy hour. There's many things we can do out of that space because of how big a kitchen we're going to have that I never rule out doing happy hour food. I'd love to do potato skins, sliders for happy hour. I'd love to do another salad. We'll do like a kale esperanza salad. We should have kale at a burger joint.
Would you ever consider expanding outside of New Orleans?
I think if we were fortunate to have number two be wildly successful, I'd think one more, maybe Old Metairie or Lakeview. I love Old Metairie, that's where my parent's live and there store has been for years. It's an underserved part of the world. We're not really looking or super active. We're focusing on number two. If we were going to do another one, we'd focus on that in 18 months or a year, something like that. Right now, it's all about number two and figuring out how much beer we have to store in that walk in. I can't wait to park a beer truck outside, during tailgating on Sundays. There's so much to think about. I can't wait to serve all those lunch people.
How will you handle the downtown lunch rush?
We have two lines [in the kitchen]. I built it like this one, but with another line behind it with two hoods. We'll have one line for take out Monday-Friday, and the other line for all the in house stuff. We're not delivering. I've held off on delivering because of liability. I don't know if my heart can take that. We're doing phone orders. The thing about phone orders is if you call in an order, it will be run out to a corner of the bar closest to the door, and that's where the computer will be. You'll be able to pay there. You'll be able to walk in, take a right and pay, as opposed to waiting in the line. That's one of things we struggle with here, not having a designated area for take-out, so they have to wait in the line. It's really hard. We tell people on the phone when they come in to come by the side to the tea and we'll take care of you, so we get around it like that. But we don't want anyone waiting in a line when they have 45 minutes for lunch and they've already placed an order. We'll have boxes for huge orders. I'm redoing our entire method of how we do our to-go food. We're not going to store everything in a bag. I've got church boxes for orders of 10 burgers or more, so you'll walk out with this huge steeple box. Really heavy duty cardboard. We're going to put the money, thought, and time, making sure when you get your burger it's organized, it looks good out of the box, and is hot as can be. We have a high standard to meet down there. I think there's a lot of expectations for pick up and lunch food. It's a whole new world for us.
What do you consider New Orleans most iconic burgers?
Camelia Grill, Bud's Broiler. I have to be careful what I say here. I grew up going to Camellia Grill, after football practice and school. We'd get a chocolate freeze and a cheeseburger with American cheese and onions on it. That's what I grew up eating. Bud's Broiler— I grew up in Old Metairie— so the one on City Park Avenue is where we'd go. If I was visiting my dad on Veterans Boulevard, I'd go to Lee's Hamburgers. They really don't get a lot of press anymore, but they're one of the first and most iconic burgers...cooking that burger in the onions. I remember throwing a complete shit fit when I was 7 years old because I wanted a burger without onions and my Mom got me a Lee's hamburger and there were onions everywhere. I had a huge meltdown because I was such a brat.
Those are my big three. I never went to the French Quarter to eat, so I didn't go to Port Of Call. If you ask what's the most iconic burger, from a tourist's perspective they're going to know Port Of Call. From a local's perspective, probably Port of Call too. I think they're great. They are who they are, and that's why they're great. We are who we are too. When we first opened my dad was like, why do keep telling these people no? Because the Company Burger only has pickles, onions and cheese on it. No we don't do lettuce and tomato. No we don't cook the burger rare. We just don't do it. This is who we are. Anyways, Port of Call is great. Do I like beating them in contests about the best burger in New Orleans? Absolutely. Because I'm the most competitive person you will ever meet.