Q&A with John & Vincent of Burger Bistro

The Burger Bistro is the brainchild of longtime friends and co-owners John Agnello and Vincent Dardanello and features an upscale customizable burger boutique concept at three different locations.

The duo began opening the concept in Brooklyn and the first location opened in Bay Ridge in June 2009 followed by a second location in Park Slope in March 2012.  The newest restaurant graced the Upper East Side dining scene in October 2012.  The burger menu boasts two million different combinations of burgers and has garnered the title of second best burger in New York City from Zagat.  Vincent, a classically trained chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and John, with 25 years experience of providing a high level of service, have combined their passions and created The Burger Bistro, a new and innovative restaurant concept.

How did you two meet?
We met back in 2002 when we were both working at Morton’s steakhouse. Vincent was the chef and John was the general manager.

What was the idea and over all concept behind The Burger Bistro to make it stand out from the competition?
Our philosophy is simple we wanted to create a place where people were treated with warmth and kindness, buy only the best and freshest ingredients and then allow our greats to create the best burger. Period. Everything is completely customizable – we’ve done the math and there are over 2 million different burger combinations on our menu.

Tell us about your burger meat blend?
The beef burger is 80-20 certified Black Angus beef. We also offer organic lamb, turkey, chicken, shrimp, and veggie burgers!

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You offer an array of Artisan burgers? Explain and what is a crowd favorite?
It’s really all about giving our guests choices. The most popular burger is by far the beef burger and our most popular topping is crumbled apple wood bacon. (We could have told you people love bacon long before we opened our first Burger Bistro.)

We do offer specials throughout the year though and if you thought the McRib had a cult following you see what happens when we bring back the Donut Burger. The infamous Donut Burger features a beef patty nestled between two halves of a sugar donut with bacon, egg and cheese – we have a large crowd that will tell you it’s worth every calorie. Our Kobe Rodeo Burger and Veal Osso Buco Burgers are also best sellers.

Any other burgers offered besides beef?
The organic lamb, turkey, chicken, shrimp, and veggie burgers are always on the menu. We also run weekly special meats such as Elk, antelope, kangaroo, ostrich, camal, shark, Yak, turduckon.

Usually your customer is your best salesman. Is most of your business by word of mouth or do rely heavily on social media marketing?
Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing and advertising. However we do rely on getting our message out there with Facebook and other social media venues like Foursquare.

Two million possible burger combinations earned The Burger Bistro title of 2nd Best Burger by Zagat in NYC. Tell us more about the combinations? Any unusual toppings you wouldn’t find elsewhere that helped achieve Zagat status?
The 2 million combinations had nothing to do with getting us #2, we feel it is the quality of our products and how we present them that scored that accolade. We do offer toppings like Buffalo shrimp, hot Italian sausage and pickled jalapenos that you won’t find elsewhere and our array of sauces are the cream of the crop.

How do you manage the quality control of your food and the service?
We are owner operated and are in our restaurants daily.  We are constantly coaching staff to ensure our high standards are met and creating a culture of passion for being the best.

Food prices fluctuate, do you base price on margins?
No we don’t base our prices on margins.  We purchase the best product we can buy at the best prices we can find.  When certain menu items become over priced or in high demand we change the items to a more affordable option. 

Your brand of burgers offers the ability to customize burgers in a quick-serve setting. How do you make that work?
Thru technology, continual training, trial and error, hard work, dedication and focus.

Your baking bread, prepping toppings, etc. What is the prep work process each day?
We pride ourselves on making and forming all of our burgers by hand daily.  We do not buy any pre-made patties.  All of our sides, toppings and sauces are prepped daily using predetermined prep levels to ensure freshness.   

Which is more important to making your business model work – the people or the system?
Both are equally important, without the system people wouldn’t be able to execute the plan and without the right people the best systems in the world will fail.

Ever consider franchising out the business model in or outside of NY?
We have given it thought but at this early stage we feel we should stay company owned in order to ensure our high standards.

Looking into your crystal ball, where do you see The Burger Bistro in 5 years?
In 5 years we can see ourselves with 10-15 restaurants, with some of those outside of the New York area.