Just what Denver needs -- another burger joint, right? Cameron Tune, who's opening Big Smoke Burger in Glendale on Monday, in the same City Set project that already houses Jax and World of Beer, certainly believes so. In fact, Tune even called Denver's burger scene "immature" -- at least when it comes to the fast-casual burger segment.
"There are a lot of one-off and two-off burger places in Denver -- Crave and Juicy Burger, for example -- and there are lots of dine-in places, too, but the fast-casual segment doesn't have a lot of competition; it's not saturated," opines Tune, a Texas native who spent twenty years working in corporate America before giving up a financial services career that, he says, "I couldn't envision explaining to my twin boys."
Tune made the decision to essentially start anew, so he began looking for small business opportunities, including franchises, just over a year ago, and while he maintains that he's "very confident in my abilities to run a business, I'm not as confident in my ability to come up with a concept." And despite the fact that he worked in restaurants a long, long time ago, he wasn't looking to get into the food business, but what he found was that general business franchises amounted to "buying yourself a job -- not a business."
Restaurant franchises, he learned, were just the opposite. "You absolutely have the feeling that you own a business -- that it's much more than a job, and while the universe of restaurant franchises is limited for someone like me, because of my lack of experience in the food world, I hired a general manager with more than forty years in the restaurant business, someone who will keep me from making really big mistakes," says Tune, adding that the "quick-service, better burger segment," which is how he defines Big Smoke, still "appears to be at the beginning of its growth phase." Smashburger, he contends, is at the "top of the fast-food category -- not the 'better burger' category."
Big Smoke got its start in Canada in 2007, and the Glendale location is the first to make an appearance in the United States. And Tune claims that it embodies all the attributes of a "better burger": fresh ground beef; at least six ounces; a wide variety of toppings; and "premium" side dishes. "When I was doing research for buying a burger franchise, I narrowed the list down to five and and went to all of them, including Big Smoke, and their product quality was far superior to anyone else's," says Tune, who sources his beef -- Nebraska-raised, 100 percent Black Angus chuck -- from Lombardi Meats, in Denver, which delivers it fresh five days a week. "We wanted to use beef from Colorado, but we couldn't find a rancher to supply us, because of the high volume," explains Tune.
His menu, which includes ten customized, char-grilled beef burgers -- a "blue" burger, for example, with Gorgonzola, avocado, rosemary and garlic mayo, tomato and lettuce -- also swaggers a Colorado lamb burger, a grilled chicken salad, hand-cut fries, onion rings and poutine, a Canadian dish topped with brown gravy and cheese curds, plus a small bottled beer and wine list. "It's a simple menu," and that, says Tune, is the point. "We don't need to have fifty toppings for our burgers; we just need to have good toppings and good beef, and our quality of beef is right up there with everyone's else's, plus our housemade sauces and flavor combinations really set us apart," he adds.
The 1,800-square-foot space, wedged between Jax and Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria, is bedecked with whole plank walnut, walls tinned with silver ceiling tiles, chalkboard menus, stained concrete floors, mustard-hued accents and an open kitchen bordered by wooden word-art graphics with burger catchphrases; a patio sits out front.
Tune plans to open four more Big Smoke Burger locations in Denver and Boulder over the next five years. "We're going to give this two to three months before looking for location number two," says Tune.
In the meantime, Big Smoke will open Monday at 10:30 a.m.; regular hours thereafter will be Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
I stopped in earlier today to get a sneak peek, the photos of which are on the following pages.
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