519 Schmecks: How to Successfully Close a Restaurant

As it goes this isn’t a skill anyone should want to acquire, but I gotta say we nailed it. I hope I never have to do it again, but it was done with pride and dignity, alongside an unusually dedicated and fiercely hard-working team. I got to enjoy a long goodbye with a few comrades and thousands of strangers and I got to see the place really sing the way we always dreamt it would in those last few services. Not a really, really bad way to fail?

Restauranting can be like being a drop of water forced down a rapidly moving drain pipe, in so many ways – sights smells and sounds included. Imagine a workday filled with so many twists and turns, moving so quickly that sometimes you’re not sure if you are driving the force or caught up in it. Either way, it’s tough to react quickly and correctly under constant pressure.

Eventually, enough losses can compile and a line will need to be drawn. It will be crystal clear when it’s time to call a spade a spade and close shop. That moment came for us at one of our restaurants over the last several months. We knew it and announced the pending closure of our beloved burger joint to staff and the public.

The following two weeks would fly by. So many burgers, so many tearful customers, requests for interviews, requests for memorabilia, emergency pork deliveries, milkshakes and incredibly long shifts at the grill. There were also words of praise and support and a Facebook page filled with wellwishers and long time haters alike firing one more “it’s not the same” our way. What a time.

It’s weird to own a restaurant. In one moment it can be the most empowering exhilarating thing, and in another, it can be a confidence crushing monster from the darkest parts of any nightmare. It can leave your mind racing and brimming with inspired ideas, or it can leave you wrought with doubt and full of insecurities and irrational fears.

Shutting down a local landmark hurts – I have felt pretty rotten about this for some time now. It sucks to close a restaurant, to say goodbye to the customers, to fail the employees, to stop providing a place in the community. There is something to be said about knowing when it’s time and when something needs to be put to rest.

We put our everything into this project and it simply wasn’t enough. Nothing will ever make me feel anything but proud of our efforts, but at the end of the day, you still lose sometimes.

I got to play Bob’s Burgers in a restaurant like no other  – made legendary long before I picked up the spatula. My family and I, with Natalie leading the charge, got to join the legacy made by three generations of the Marks family. I took my turn at the stoves of perhaps our Region’s most iconic grill, and I cooked its last burger.

Is this what fulfilling your destiny feels like? The answer is no, and I’ll be back at it tomorrow to start writing the next chapter of our story.

Nick Benninger is a local chef and restaurant owner.

The Recipe

The Meat 

Fatty pork ground course twice. You will need to ask your butcher for this as it’s not something that is readily available. Simply ask for high fat (30%) pork meat to be ground course, twice. This will result in the right texture without being mushy, by grinding it twice we reserve some nice toothy texture while still ensuring the mix is properly smeared where the fat begins to bind with the meat resulting in a creamy pinkish look. 

The Spice 

t= teaspoon 

Salt 20 t

Sugar 10 t

Paprika 5 t

Turmeric 1 t

Onion Powder 4 t

Garlic Powder 3 t

Celery Salt 5 t

Cayenne 1 t  

The Build

Wonderbun: It’s gotta be a wonderbun type, white not whole wheat. The key here is to toast it in a panini press, this will give the top and bottom and great toasted feel and flattened look while steaming the inside just right

Relish: I hate the stuff, green pickle relish, but a tiny bit, like a teaspoon is important here, put it on the top bun. 

Mustard: Gotta be ballpark, and although I am always tempted to put a big splooge, you shouldn’t, it will overwhelm the burger quickly, put the mustard on the bottom bun, helps keep the greasy patty from sogging out the bun. 

Cheese: Is it really cheese? Use processed cheese, it’s a key ingredient here, don’t be tempted but the lure of aged cheddar. And put it on the patty while it finishes cooking so we are sure it melts. 

Onions: Forever onions, simply sliced Spanish onions melted in the same pan you cook the burgers, seasoned with a bit of burger spice. 

Tomato: one thin slice, because we are cheap? 

The Burger: Using a 4oz scoop (or by hand if you don’t have one) we scoop the meat and place the ball on the flat top, no additional fat needed. Using an offset spatula flatten the meat almost and thin as you can. In the thousands of burgers I made I only a couple times over flattened it, so don’t be shy here. Then season the upside generously with the burger spice. It won’t take long to cook. After about 2 minutes it’s ready to flip and as soon as you flip it you can add the cheese and the onions and let it finish in the pan. Remove it to a resting pan for a second to drain some, but not all the grease and then that’s it. Build the burger and enjoy.