A taste of Israel has come to California. Last month, Ashley Gershoony, along with two business partners, opened the first North American offshoot of the Israeli fast-food franchise Burgerim, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California.
Hebrew for “multiple burgers,” Burgerim opened its first store in Tel Aviv in 2008 and is now a successful Israeli franchise; with more than 70 stores in Israel, it has more outlets than competitors like Burger Ranch and BBB Burgus Burger Bar. Gershoony, a Persian Jew who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, visited Israel recently to see the franchise in action. “There are so many of them,” she said. “On every corner is a Burgerim. And the burgers were so delicious. We’re hoping to replicate that success here.”
Oren Loni, an Israeli native who has previous experience opening schnitzel and yogurt franchises in Israel, purchased the franchise rights from Burgerim’s founder in 2010. Burgerim USA lists its mission statement on the back of every menu: “To offer the world a better kind of burger and revolutionize a classic favorite, using fresh, all-natural ingredients, and spice it up with a Mediterranean twist.”
Setting up shop in O!Burger’s old digs, the stateside store has already distinguished itself from its older Middle Eastern sibling in several ways. For one, the West Hollywood branch offers nine different mini-burgers ranging from a yellowfin ahi tuna burger to a Kobe-style 100 percent grass-fed beef burger—both unavailable in Israel. There are also four Mediterranean spreads to choose from—hummus, tahini, matbucha, and harissa—as well as garlic aioli and pesto sauces. Shoestring fries, Moroccan dusted onion rings, and beignets are also exclusive to the American store.
Novel options notwithstanding, Burgerim joins an already crowded West Hollywood burger market, which includes neighbors Five Guys Burgers, Mel’s Drive-In, and Astro Burger—not to mention perennial crowd favorite In-N-Out Burger’s nearby Hollywood location. So, what will it take to make Burgerim stand out? “Hamburgers have always been branded,” Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold said in an email. “Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s hires celebrities and supermodels to drip the juices provocatively on themselves. Burger King unleashes a man in a grotesque king mask on the football field, and McDonald’s proposes a glowing, post-racial universe where everyone is young and fit.” Though Gold said he is “intrigued by the tiny burger/multiple flavor idea,” Burgerim will need a way to present itself as a cultural phenomenon, beyond the food: “A new restaurant needs a narrative, a way to stand out.”
Gershoony expects that Burgerim’s Mediterranean-fusion approach will resonate with consumers and set it apart: “There really is no other concept like this in the States, where you can choose such a variety of different meats, and have smaller options and mix and match them.” (The store also stays open until 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights to cater to the local, late-night, after-bar crowd that converges on Santa Monica Boulevard.)
The Jewish community, Gershoony says, is a big part of the store’s customer base, “because when they hear that it’s a franchise born in Israel, they’re dying to jump on it.” But that’s not the only target for the store; on a recent Saturday afternoon, the crowd was decidedly mixed—Jews and non-Jews alike. “We want everybody to come try it,” Gershoony added.
Repeat customer Sam Guilloud was sitting outside at Burgerim, enjoying one turkey and one veggie burger, otherwise known as “the fusion” combo, that Saturday afternoon; he had tried the Ahi and lamb burgers on a previous visit. “The burgers are different from other burger places,” he told me. “The Middle Eastern flair gives it an edge.”
In an effort to reach a broad audience, Burgerim’s West Hollywood store is not kosher. But a second Burgerim, on track to open within 90 days in California, will be kosher, and will also include a full bar. Additionally, staff will greet customers in Hebrew—just like they do in Israel.
“It’s such a simple idea that it’s mind-boggling that no one has brought it here, but I guess you needed some young Jewish minds to come in and take care of business,” Gershoony said.
Editor’s note: In March 2015, Tablet received a note from Burgerim’s lawyers in Israel, claiming that the store in West Hollywood (now closed) was not an authorized part of the franchise, and had used the Burgerim name without permission.
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