Celebrity chef Bobby Flay opened Bobby’s Burger Palace number 16 on Tuesday in Westfield Montgomery Mall.
The Food Network veteran and New York native said he didn’t expect his burger concept to extend past his first location on Long Island. But even in the competitive fast casual burger market, the idea of potato chip-covered “crunchified” burgers (the restaurant’s staple) isn’t slowing down.
“Whenever I walk into the restaurants, everyone seems to be smiling,” Flay told a group of reporters, bloggers and others during a preview luncheon on Tuesday. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t care. I’m just glad people are happy. To me that’s probably our biggest accomplishment.”
Flay’s new spot is part of the renovation of Westfield Montgomery, which has poached The Cheesecake Factory from White Flint Mall. It’s under construction next door to the Burger Palace, where fans waited in line outside for a burger and a chance to meet Flay.
Flay answered a few questions for us about the restaurant, the competition and, most important, the burgers. (About half of Burger Palace customers get their burger “crunchified,” in case you were wondering):
BethesdaNow.com: What’s your favorite burger place?
Flay: There’s a place in New York City called J.G. Melon. It’s been there since 1972. It’s a saloon and I love the burgers there. It actually made me cook on a flat iron. After that, I was just inspired to try it that way.
BethesdaNow.com: Why have people taken to fast casual concepts like this one, where you pay $6, $7 or $8 for the main menu item?
Flay: I think Americans want better food. We’re the last country in the world to catch up in terms of that. It’s like, every other country in the world, food is very important to them. And it’s only been the last 10 or 15 years where food has become very important to everybody. Now, I have a 17-year-old daughter and I listen to her and her friends talk about food. We never talked about food that way. They really care about what they’re eating, where it comes from, the flavors. They’re looking for better food.
That’s why, I think when you’re looking at these fast food restaurants, they’re struggling to keep up because they understand that people in every demographic, at every price point are demanding better food.
BethesdaNow.com: You mentioned the competition for burgers before. Around here, Five Guys, BGR are pretty well established. Shake Shack is even coming in. How do you fit in?
Flay: I think that it’s important to be able to separate yourself from the other burger competitors. There’s a lot of good burgers out there. Burgers are one of those things that are part of American fabric. When I first opened this, a lot of the media asked me — you have to remember, this was like six years ago — and the economy was not very good. And they were saying, ‘Oh, you’re doing this because the economy’s bad.’
I was like, ‘Whoa, first of all, I’m not an economist. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow.’ But burgers are good in any market. It’s just part of what America eats and people have said there’s a big trend for burger places, but I just think burgers have been around for a very long time. It’s just that there’s now better growth in the marketplace with places like Shake Shack.