How These Blended Burger Winners are Handling COVID-19
Blended Burger Project™ winners weigh in on the pandemicJBF Editors
November 25, 2020
For the past five years, we’ve partnered with the Mushroom Council for the Blended Burger Project™, which challenges chefs to create more healthy, delicious, and sustainable burgers by blending ground meat with finely chopped, cultivated mushrooms and serve it in their restaurants. The pandemic and public health protocols have affected restaurants around the country, so we decided to catch up with past winners to see how they are managing COVID-19.
Alejandro Barrientos (pictured above) of 2018 Winner Curb Side Bistro, Odessa, TX
With dining regulations being updated every day, Alejandro Barrientos of Curb Side Bistro was quick to pivot with each new change. But with the closure of indoor dining, his restaurant took a hit. “We went from being a fast-casual restaurant [where] 80 percent of our business was dine-in, and in the span of two days, we had to switch to 100 percent to-go only.”
But Barrientos proved resilient, revamping the restaurant’s online ordering system and adding extra phone lines to accommodate the influx of takeout orders. Despite all of the challenges, Barrientos still found time to give back by donating meals to West Texas Food Bank and school supplies to Crisis Center of West Texas and Harmony Home Children's Advocacy Center.
Toni Elkhouri of 2016 and 2017 Winner Cedar’s Cafe, Melbourne, FL
Before the order to shutdown restaurants was official, Toni Elkhouri took the initiative and closed indoor dining at Cedar’s Cafe for the safety of her staff and customers. Though she had to immediately switch to takeout and limited seating outdoors, Elkhouri still got creative with her weekly menu of Mediterranean classics and then some. This past June, Elkhouri celebrated Cedar’s blended burger and burger bash month by reviving her 2016 award-winning blended burger alongside a new creation: the Shawarma Burger featuring ground lamb, beef, and mushroom, topped with pickled vegetables, feta, and a pickled, shawarma-spiced tahini sauce. For cooking at home, Elkhouri offered "grill out kits" with the option to choose blended burger patties.
“Most [people] wait all year for my blended burgers, and with the grill out kits, it outsold everything else,” she said. “The blended burger has helped to cut costs, increase nutritional benefits, and helped keep people happy.”
Fiore Moletz of 2015 and 2018 Winner Burgh'ers Brewing and Della Terra, Pittsburgh, PA
Around mid-March, Fiore Moletz had a meeting with his entire staff to strategize the best way to press forward during the pandemic. “Our front-of-the-house team decided that they were going to volunteer and work for tips. We laid off or furloughed most of our management team. The back-of-house staff who felt safe working stayed on at 20 hours a week. I worked at all three locations, three shifts a week, to keep costs down. Our main goal during all of this was to keep our employee's benefits active just in case anyone became ill.”
Ensuring safety, Moletz required his employees to get tested once a month and encouraged staff members who were traveling or in the presence of large groups to receive extra testing and quarantine before they could return to work.
While Moletz’s restaurants have made significant changes to follow new safety standards, including new sanitation protocols and wearing masks, he encourages customers to take on their share of the load by tipping and being flexible with new changes. But even among all the new changes, Moletz remains committed to sustainable practices in his restaurants, evident by his investment in The Blended Burger Project™.
“We have had the blended burger on the menu the entire time, it is part of who we are!” said Moletz. “The blended burger has benefited us tremendously. For one, it's cheaper for us to sell—yes, it’s more labor intensive, but the mushrooms drive the cost down. They are much healthier. During a pandemic, it’s important to eat a little healthier even if you don’t realize you’re doing so.”