By Frank Sabatini Jr. | SDUN Reporter
Ask any urbanite in San Diego about Burger Lounge and they’ll easily point you to a location within their neighborhood or very nearby. Partake in the eatery’s various patties, fresh-cut fries and sprightly salads, and you’ll understand why the certified-green company has enjoyed rapid success since launching just over three years ago.
Come March, owner J. Dean Loring will add a sixth location to his portfolio of sleek, orange-accented “lounges” that began in La Jolla before easefully branching into Kensington, Coronado, Little Italy and most recently, Hillcrest, located at 406 University Ave. His upcoming Gaslamp District location will rank as the largest Burger Lounge in a string of homegrown restaurants that served nearly 600,000 guests last year and recently earned kudos in Rachel Ray Magazine.
We caught up with Loring shortly after last month’s opening of Burger Lounge in Hillcrest to inquire about his magic formula for success, his culinary background and future goals and when he finds time to rest.
San Diego Uptown News: What triggered the concept of Burger Lounge?
Loring: I’ve been in the restaurant business all my life and owned three eateries in Humboldt County called Stars Hamburgers when I was in my 20s. They were essentially the same concept as Burger Lounge. I also worked in fine dining in San Francisco, and as a manager, I opened a place in Beverly Hills in the ‘80s called Kate Mantilini, which began specializing in comfort food before comfort foods were really in. I’ve also owned Cody’s La Jolla since 1998. So, I had conquered a strong learning curve by the time I opened the first Burger Lounge in 2007, knowing how to make quality burgers and fine salads—basically taking common products and elevating them to high standards.
SDUN: Did you foresee opening locations in multiple neighborhoods when first starting the company?
Loring: When we opened the prototype in La Jolla, we were prepared to grow if that became successful. It was well received and busy from the get go. We like being on corner lots in urban environments, such as in Hillcrest, and I’m enjoying the growing process.
SDUN: What makes your burgers and other menu items stand out from the competition?
Loring: Our beef at Burger Lounge is 100 percent organic and grass-fed and comes from heirloom stock from a ranch in Kansas, which we partnered with right from the beginning. Our buns are made by a local bakery from a blend of organic wheat and white flours, and have a little molasses in them. Our fries are fresh-cut. The onion rings are made from sweet onions battered in buttermilk and Japanese breadcrumbs. And we use pure peanut oil for frying.
SDUN: There are some customers who claim they are so addicted to your turkey burger that they can’t venture away from it. What’s the secret to that recipe?
Loring: It’s a blend of white and dark meat. And before we shape them into patties, we add in lots of fresh basil. We also have a popular vegetarian burger that we make with quinoa, brown rice, veggies and spices.
SDUN: Do you plan on expanding the menu?
Loring: We’re always looking at new opportunities, but for now, we like the simplicity of the menu because it serves most demands. People today lead very complicated lives and the last thing you want to give them when going out to eat is a complicated experience.
SDUN: As a certified-green company, what measures do you take in protecting the environment?
Loring: It means that we use recyclable products and building materials such as our tables and tiles, as well as energy-efficient lighting, heating and ventilation systems. We also recycle all of our oil, which in January a company will be converting into bio fuel that we will use to operate our delivery trucks.
SDUN: What challenges, if any, are you facing with opening next year (at Island and Market streets) in the Gaslamp District?
Loring: There are a lot of complexities in that build-out because it’s 2,500 square feet of space that needs some retro fitting. It will be the largest store in our company since it will cater to higher volumes of traffic.
SDUN: Any plans to open locations outside of San Diego?
Loring: If we do, it will be in urban areas, more than likely within California.
SDUN: Does your busy schedule ever allow for vacations?
Loring: I was away for a month in Tahiti last January. There’s a lot of value to taking time off and looking at things from a distance and focusing on what’s important.
For more information on Burger Lounge menu options and locations, visit burgerlounge.com.