Karachi (or shall I say, Pakistan?) witnessed what I call a food franchise frenzy (FFF) in the 90’s, when a bunch of international chains decided to grace us with their presence. Out of nowhere, trendy restaurants started popping up all over the place, overshadowing local food chains that just couldn’t compete. While the consumers were happy with a wider food selection, I saw several home-grown restaurants that I had grown up with, fade away into nothingness.
Luckily for us, there are still a few passionate people like Syed Mohammed Ali Raza, who are willing to tread the turbulent waters and make their name in the local fast food scene. Syed Mohammed Ali Raza is the owner of Burger, Inc., a restaurant serving all-American burgers and classic southern fried chicken. I had this opportunity to meet with Ali through my friends at Food Connection Pakistan. Seldom have I come across someone who is this honest, open and straight-forward.
Burger, Inc. is a grab-and-go burger joint located in the posh DHA area in Karachi and I had the pleasure of visiting it a few days back. As soon as I got in, I saw Ali walking towards me. What struck me was the lack of seating for the customers. What can I say? I just don’t like eating in a car. After a brief round of introductions, he led me up a narrow flight of spiral stairs to his office/bakery/prep-area on the first floor. Once we were seated and he had ordered tea for the both of us, I fired away with some burning questions.
Yousuf: Opening up a restaurant highlighting burgers is a bold move. Why introduce burgers in an already saturated market?
Ali: (laughs) Karachi is not a city; it’s a country in its own right. With a population of around 20 million, there definitely is a place for my restaurant too. When people ask me who my competition is, I laugh at them. Unlike others in the fast food industry, I don’t believe in camouflaging the quality of the burger behind a bunch of sauces & mayonnaise. My focus, on the other hand, is for the people to be able to taste the original flavor of the meat. Burger, Inc. isn’t a fast food restaurant as my burgers are more on a gourmet trajectory. I hand-pick prime cuts of beef to create a perfect patty that is moist, light, and packs the maximum taste.
Yousuf: Who/what inspired you to open this restaurant?
Ali: To be very honest, the restaurant business is perhaps one of the very few good/clean business models, if you know what I mean. This and the opportunity to grow in Pakistan by selling a quality product at a fair price is what inspired me most. I want to turn Burger, Inc. into a national brand.
Yousuf: What sets you apart from your competition?
Ali: The first thing you should notice is that I have nothing to hide. The kitchen is practically open to anyone who wishes to see what’s going on. If I see a customer complain about delays in his order, I open my doors, lead him into the kitchen and let him see how his meal is being cooked. Our burger patties are not half-cooked then frozen to save time when they are put back on the grill. We cook the patties to order and this significantly increases our serving times.
I don’t believe in sourcing my supplies and have kept it to a bare minimum. Even the buns that we use are baked in our own ovens; it’s a simple recipe, nothing fancy, with potatoes, flour, salt and yeast. I don’t use any preservatives in our buns and that is why, we prefer calling them Artisan rolls. A burger is as much about the bun as it is about the patty, if not more, and it’s the bun that you taste when you first sink your teeth into it.
At Burger, Inc., we understand that each part of the cow has a different flavor/texture. As I said earlier, we blend different parts of the cow to create the perfect burger. All the cuts we used are marbled meat and we do not add any additional fat to it. To ensure this, I oversee the procurement of the meat cuts myself.
I’m big on hearing what the customers have to say about out food, especially if they have a negative critique. Such evaluations help us improve the quality of our food and service. I personally make it a point to scour the internet and respond to any queries that the customers may have (on forums, facebook, etc.). That way, the staff respects me more as they know I’m getting direct feedback from our consumers.
Yousuf: Are there any ‘secret’ spices/techniques we should know about?
Ali: There is no secret – PERIOD. We don’t put any spices in the meat as I want people to taste it the way God meant it to be tasted. A little salt and pepper is added onto the patty at the time of grilling and that’s about it. Even our chicken is not marinated, just classically deep fried in the southern American style.
Yousuf: Besides burgers, what is your favorite food?
Ali: I absolutely am in love with Koobideh Kabab served with Bakla rice. It’s a Persian staple made with minced lamb.
Yousuf: What are your future plans?
Ali: I’m currently searching for an additional outlet in the Muhammad Ali Housing Society vicinity and I intend to open up a branch there as soon as I possibly can.
The Food (9/10)
With that last question, I diverted my attention towards the delicacies that were being laid out in front of me. As I took my first bite, I could instantly tell that the bun was freshly baked. I could taste a hint of something familiar (i.e. potatoes) as it melted into my mouth. Soft and aromatic, it would itself be an excellent accompaniment to a cup of tea.
The beef patty was thick, juicy, charred on the outside and most of all, pink on the inside, a sure-shot sign of it being made from good quality meat. As promised by Ali, I was welcomed by the refreshingly untainted flavor of meat in my mouth. Not too chewy, not too crumbly, it was a perfectly succulent beef patty. I wasn’t a huge fan of the accompanying home-made sauce as it had a slightly grainy quality to it.
Out came the chicken; golden, glistening and crisp.
“Looks can be deceiving”, I thought. “How can you not marinate a chicken and still manage to keep it juicy?”
As I took a bite, I couldn’t help but admire how tasty and moist it was despite the fact that it had not been marinated. The coating on the outside was fairly basic but had a nice crunch to it, the golden skin fried to perfection. The accompanying mayo-based sauce was a cherry on the top and would be an ideal dip for the french fries. I could eat a bucket-full any given day.
With my hunger satiated, I went back down into the kitchen to see the patties being grilled in front of my eyes. The cook took out some almost-perfectly round hand-made frozen patties from the fridge, removed them from the plastic and put them on the grill. The all-too-familiar sizzling sound was music to my ears and I stood there mesmerized, watching the patties being grilled to perfection.
The Pricing (10/10)
Burger, Inc. is an ideal place for people who demand value for money. A per-person meal costs around PKR 450 on average and is worth every penny. This is another area where Burger, Inc. gives the other chains a run for their money. Let’s take a look at the menu below for reference (courtesy FC-Pakistan).
All the reviews I had read online were understated. This burger was better than they claimed it to be, and then some. In this world full of processed meat and additives, it’s refreshing to try something that is lean and clean. If you want to satisfy your burger/chicken cravings without putting a significant dent in your pocket, head out to Burger, Inc. now and grab whatever gets your juices flowing.
There are, however, a few things I’d like to suggest that may help increase the Burger, Inc. clientele significantly:
- Cater to children by adding in a kids menu; many parents like to buy small portions for the kids so that food isn’t wasted
- Have some seating arrangement at all subsequent branches so that people can enjoy the burgers as soon as they come off the grill
- I’m all about keeping a simple menu but you could really use some other items that compliment burgers, such as milk shakes, onion rings, etc. to give people a wider selection of sides
- Get the sign on the front fixed; the first impression leaves a huge mark on the customers
- Add a vegetarian option for people who can’t/don’t want to eat meat
- Quality comes first; never compromise on it and the customers will keep on coming back for more
Thank you for having me over and I wish you all the best for your upcoming openings. I can’t wait to bring my family out there for a bite.