Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >
Feb 4, 2011 07:56 AM

Burger Lounge Expansion

Looks like Burger Lounge is growing - - hope they won't suffer from the "too much/too fast" expansion problems that bite so many of these small chains with visions of grandeur. (Yeah, Rubio's, I'm looking at you)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Their menu is so much simpler than Rubio's, it's hard to see how they could have that problem.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      Josh, it's not necessarily the menu. Rubio's didn't have that large a menu when they began expanding. The problem is trying to open too many locations too quickly and not having the a strong enough corportate structure (i.e. personnel services, payroll, training, management, etc) in place to deal with everything that goes along with a large, multi-unit format.

      Operations/entrepenuerial guys are great at creating ideas and concepts, but not always equally as great at managaging those same ideas and concepts when they start to grow.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        Great point DD, most entrepenuerial types excell in small start-up ventures, but when it comes to corporate expansion, if they don't let go to the pros, they usually die.

    2. Looks like they are passing over San Diego north county, as well as Orange County, for the presumed gold mine of west LA. Their first location in LA (on Sunset Bld) should do very well.

      14 Replies
      1. re: Encinitan

        I don't think they are going to last in LA and its going to end up really hurting them especially with the Umami expansion going on. LA is a lot tougher crowd to please than SD.

        1. re: SDGourmand

          I disagree. I think they'll do very well in LA. They have a very good product, and LA is short on inexpensive quality options.

          1. re: Josh

            Umami is the same price range as BL and already has an extremely strong following in the LA area.. Not to mention the food trucks serving inexpensive burgers.. I just can't see them making it but only time will tell..

            1. re: SDGourmand

              I just want to add Father's Office and Barney's Gourmet Burgers (not barney's beanery) as well as The Counter, as more competition for them.

              1. re: SDGourmand

                I checked out the menu - the price range may be similar, if a bit higher, but I don't see any mention of organic produce or grass-fed beef. So, the two aren't really comparable - they're selling a different product, aimed at a different audience.

                I seem to recall similar skepticism about the prospects in SD when there were only two locations.

              2. re: Josh


                Seriously, I like BL as much as the next person, but we are talking about LA here. There are way more options at way more price ranges.

                1. re: chezwhitey

                  Good to know. So if I'm on the West Side, near Venice, where can I go for a good, reasonably-priced grass-fed beef burger?

                  1. re: Josh


                    While I like BL, I'm not so sure about their business strategy trying to break into the already semi saturated LA market. I hope they succeed just because I hate to see good restaurants fail, but the area they picked just doesn't make sense to me. The whole point is, while BL is very good for san diego, is it still very good for LA? Don't know if what they do really separates them from the pack up there. If I were them, I'd go after orange county or santa barbara.

                    1. re: chezwhitey

                      I'm not sure how that link proves your case. There's one mention of Venice beach there, and the place mentioned isn't serving what BL is serving.

                      You need to realize it's not simply a burger - it's a burger made from grass-fed beef, and a mostly organic produce menu. It's aimed at offering a more healthful fast-food burger option. If there's someone else in LA doing that already I don't know about it, and apparently neither does anyone in that thread you linked.

                      1. re: Josh


                        There are a few in the venice/SM area on this thread. I'm not sure someone who wants a burger and fries and a milkshake are really looking for a "healthful" fast food option despite it being organic and grass fed. There are probably a few, but is there enough of a market for BL to succeed?

                        I like BL for the bun and meat, I personally don't care as much about the grass fed vs. corn fed beef as long as it tastes good to me.

                        1. re: chezwhitey

                          The same questions were asked in SD. I think there are enough people who do care that it will work. Let's Be Frank thrives for the same reason.

                          1. re: Josh

                            Either way, should be interesting to see how this plays out. They are looking at sunset according to the article so it could be anywhere from west hollywood to santa monica, if I were them, I'd go with pasadena, less competition.

                  2. re: chezwhitey

                    Bah, Hipster In-N-Out should do quite well in LA.

              3. re: Encinitan

                Yikes , WeHo Sunset, that rent has got to be pricey, not the place I woulda picked for my burger place expansion into the LA market. It is kinda interesting though they did skip over all of no. county and OC as well. I have heard that the economy in south OC is in pretty rough shape but what about CB, CBS, EN or DM?

              4. I've never heard a mention of them on chow until now. Are they any good? I guess the better question is how do they compare to The Counter?

                41 Replies
                1. re: karaethon

                  They've been mentioned on and off since they opened. I tried them when they opened and didn't particularly care for them. Liked the turkey burger (which was very good), but not the hamburger. They bill their french fries as being hand cut and I seriously questioned that at the time. I have purchased probably close to a million pounds of fries in my career and their fries did not look or taste like any hand-cut fry I've eaten; looked way closer to the Lamb-Weston and Simplot products I've purchased. I also didn't think their onion rings were anything special (and I'll expend the calories and fat grams on good onion rings).

                  There are actually quite a few people on the board that like them, my position is the minority one

                  1. re: karaethon

                    I'm a big fan of Burger Lounge, and go there often.

                    When they first opened they had some issues. The buns had problems, and they hadn't quite gotten the cooking method for the burgers down. About a year ago or so they turned a corner and the quality improved a lot, IMO.

                    It's my favorite inexpensive burger option in town. I do think that the standard configuration, with lettuce, tomato, and 1000 Island, tastes a little too close to In-n-Out for my liking. They're using good quality grass-fed beef, and all that stuff masks the flavor a lot. I tend to get my burgers there dry, with jalapenos and fresh onion. The meat is cooked medium, though they will do medium-rare if you ask, and there are ample meat juices to moisten the bread, making condiments like ketchup or mayonnaise unnecessary.

                    The fresh vegetable salad w/vinaigrette is tasty, and I'll often get a half-salad w/ Baby Lounge Burger for lunch.

                    I haven't eaten at The Counter because they use commodity feedlot beef. From what I know of how The Counter operates, Burger Lounge is quite different because they don't offer numerous topping options.

                    I don't normally order fries or onion rings, so can't vouch for those, but their chocolate malt is quite nice.

                    1. re: Josh

                      "The meat is cooked medium, though they will do medium-rare if you ask"

                      Will they do rare?

                      Or seared?

                      Or raw?

                      1. re: stevewag23

                        I doubt they'd do raw.

                        You can order it rare, but the patties are thin and you'll be more likely to get it medium rare - though I have had a truly rare burger there once or twice.

                    2. re: karaethon

                      I've been to Counter and BL and find them both to be awful with BL being slightly better but not by much..

                      1. re: SDGourmand

                        How long ago were you there? What was awful about it? How many times did you go?

                        1. re: Josh

                          been to BL about 5 times LJ and LI last time being about 7 months ago.. The burgers have no flavor at all. The patty is so thin and they always over cooked it.. I've also seen Tall Grass Beef patties frozen at costco so lets hope the meat as at least fresh and not pre packaged.. The bun always has a bunch of excess flour on the top and find that to be flavorless as well.. Fries and onion rings are poor quality frozen product no way are they fresh.. Either way they are awful.. I just don't understand the hype over BL and never will.. It's great that they use grass fed meat but flavor comes first and I don't get that from them..

                          1. re: SDGourmand

                            I haven't seen the flour on the top of the bun in months, so my guess is they finally got rid of that (which I agree was bad). I get my burger without condiments because that allows you to taste the meat.

                            I know for me the main reason I go there is it's an inexpensive place to get a grass-fed, no-frills burger.

                            I think for what it is (fast-food burger) it's good. As I mentioned below, it's not haute cuisine.

                            On another note - at which Costco did you see the Tallgrass patties?

                            1. re: Josh

                              Carlsbad.. saw them last year..

                        2. re: SDGourmand

                          I only compare it to The Counter because my foodie friend in LA used to always go to Father's Office, but he switched to The Counter after it opened because he thought it was a lot better.

                          1. re: karaethon

                            The problem for me with most burger places is their use of feedlot beef. Maybe I should recuse myself from any burger discussion.

                            1. re: Josh

                              i like burger lounge burgers, but take issue with the fact that they don't carry through their grass-fed/free-range philosophy to all of their menu items. it's clearly such a marketing piece for them, and i give them kudos for making this stance on beef (it's also the way i eat). but it drives me bonkers that their milk for the milkshakes isn't sourced as such, as well as the chicken. where is the consistency in their soap box???

                              1. re: beachbunnySD

                                I think that's a little unfair, in some respects. I agree on the chicken for sure, but milk is a lot harder. Milk and ice cream from grass fed cows is very hard to find, and would be prohibitively expensive. I think to some extent a restaurant has to choose their battles in that regard. Nobody's going to buy a $20 milkshake - or at least, very few people would.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  fair enough, but at the very least they could use hormone-free milk. burger lounge uses foremost milk, who make no such claims that their cows are not hormone-treated. alta-dena is another large scale producer and also carried by whole foods, jimbo's and the like. and would be a seemingly good option to move to.

                                  i happily shell out $7 for a wee little pint of laloo's goat's milk ice cream, but i guess it's all relative to where your priorities lie ;)

                            2. re: karaethon

                              I haven't been to FO yet (and probably won't for a long time due to the mob), but I find it extremely hard to believe that their much-vaunted burger is no better than something from The Counter (which I HAVE been to).

                              I find The Counter to be mostly hype. They encourage lots of toppings to hide the fact that their beef is pretty tasteless and only marginally better than fast-food burger chains.

                              1. re: shouzen

                                FO's burger is very, very good, but I think they use commodity beef.

                                1. re: shouzen

                                  I think the "much vaunted" FO burger is just all hype. Either that or all of my friends who went there had their expectations too high (but since the percentage of disappointed people is so high, I can only conclude that it's not that good)

                                  There was also a lot of discussion about the Apple Pan burgers being better than In-N-Out, but I was very disappointed in the Apple Pan burger and thought the In-N-Out burger was much better.

                                  1. re: karaethon

                                    Ha, I was wondering when somebody was going to mention good 'ol AP. I think that they are more nostalgia than anything else. I probably had my first burger there in '59.

                            3. re: karaethon

                              I think it will come down to how they will market themselves in LA - if they will go the grass-fed/non-commodity way they might have some chances to establish themselves successful in LA. If they "just" go for "trendy" new burger place they might fail since their product for us (after two visits) was OK but nothing special (lousy bun, decent patty (medium-raw)).

                              1. re: honkman

                                I just have to ask - were your two visits when they first opened? Because I agree - the bun was really terrible at first, but I think they've improved it a lot in the years since then.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  I feel, too, like I should emphasize what I said above: "It's my favorite *inexpensive burger option* in town."

                                  If people are dinging BL for not being Cowboy Star, that seems inappropriate. It's a fast-food place, doing pastured meat. Expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

                                  Let's Be Frank in LA has great pastured beef hot dogs out of their truck, but it *is* a food truck hot dog, not haute cuisine.

                                  1. re: Josh

                                    Hey Josh, I appreciate your passion and maybe LA will for BL. A major factor may be that they're in a stiff rent distriict for a better low cost fast food type burger. The risk appears to be on the high side.

                                  2. re: Josh

                                    The last visit was about 6 months ago and there might have been a slight improvement but nothing which made the burger really good (even for fast food). I disagree with the argument that it is a "just" a fast food burger. Currently the price for a burger and large fries at BL is $11.90. The price for a burger (with fries) at Alchemy is $12, at Starlite is $13. It doesn't matter in what type of restaurant a burger is served only the quality and price matters. Compared to Alchemy and Starlite the burger at BL is a huge disappointment and definitely not even even close of being worth the price.

                                    1. re: honkman

                                      I guess I am looking at it differently. I don't get the fries at BL, because I really am not much of a big fry fan in general. So a burger, out the door, at BL is $8. A burger at Alchemy is $12, + tax and tip, bringing it to $15 - twice the cost.

                                      I would fully expect a burger that costs twice as much to be better, and I agree that it *is* better. I'd rather have Alchemy or Toronado's burger over Burger Lounge's any day - but Burger Lounge is a short walk, and those other two places require driving. On a 1-hr lunch break, I'm going to walk.

                                      I disagree with your argument that type of venue doesn't matter - I know for myself I judge a place based on similar kinds of restaurants. If I didn't, then every place in SD would suck because they're not Gramercy Tavern.

                                      EDIT: In other words, I will sometimes get something that is "good enough" if I'm in a hurry and just need to eat. If you look at any of my burger lists for SD, you'll see that BL is not one of my top picks.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        I don't think you can compare the prices on one side for just a burger and than to a burger with fries and say it is double the price. Just a burger would perhaps cost $9-10 at Alchemy (and we tend to also tip at BL) which makes the prices comparable and not double.
                                        Regarding the venue - I don't want to start another dicussion about comparing restaurants in SD (and explain why we are so disappointed in SD) and anywhere else but at least for us the main criteria to compare are quality and price. If a restaurant anywhere else is able to provide a product for a certain price and quality I expect that a restaurant in SD which offers a similar product for the same price to have a comparable quality and that is independently of the venue/location. Obviously we do the same when comparing restaurants within San Diego.

                                        1. re: honkman

                                          I don't know if I agree. I don't think Alchemy's fries would add $3 to the cost of the dish. Ritual Tavern, for example, has a burger at a similar price to Alchemy - if you substitute salad for the fries they add $4 to the price.

                                          Depending on their vendor, the fries could be cheap enough that they're not really that big a factor in the pricing of the dish.

                                          And to your point about disappointment in SD, that's exactly why I compare the way I do - because next to any good food city we really do pale by comparison. So since this is where I live and eat, I have to adjust my expectations otherwise I'd be cooking every meal.

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            "And to your point about disappointment in SD, that's exactly why I compare the way I do - because next to any good food city we really do pale by comparison. So since this is where I live and eat, I have to adjust my expectations otherwise I'd be cooking every meal" - I guess everybody has a different approach but my wife and I are not willing to pay the same or higher price for some inferior food (and that isn't by far a SD problem only) or just "avoiding" it by lowering the expectations. Our approach is more focusing on a few good restaurants which are worth the money and ignoring the rest. You can only change a restaurant situation anywhere to the better if restaurants are either forced to improve their menus or go out of business if they deliver overpriced product because nobody is visiting them.

                                            1. re: honkman

                                              I agree with your point, honkman. We'd rather save up for an eating trip somewhere else than dine out consistently at mediocre places locally. The money is better spent on great ingredients cooked at home (which we do every night) instead of giving it to some "only OK" place for the sake of dining out.

                                              1. re: shouzen

                                                It's doesn't have to be a trip somewhere else but also support for the good places in SD (of couse everybody will have a different definion of what is good and comparable to places in other cities). That might limit the places to go for food in SD but it would be the only way to hopefully change something about the quality of restaurants in SD.

                                                1. re: honkman

                                                  I agree 100%. My girlfriend and do the same thing. We have our handfull of restaurants we frequent here and that's about it.I love dining out but I rather cook at home.

                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                    I didn't mean to say that we can't find good places in SD, but certainly they are much fewer and far between. But this is why we consistently return to places like Wine Vault, Whisknladle, Blind Lady, not to mention the excellent Japanese and Korean restaurants - they serve quality products and are deserving of the patronage.

                                                    1044 Wall Street, La Jolla, CA 92037

                                              2. re: Josh

                                                Actually, Josh, I *do* think fries could add up to $3 the cost of the dish. The operative words being "up to" and would depend upon the fry. The potato markets have been off-and-on tight for the last few years and aren't nearly as inexpensive as they used to be, especially if the operator is specing and purchasing a fry that is one of the higher levels.

                                                Fries that are reasonably uniform in size, x-tra fancy, skin on, or several other iterations are all substantially more per case than a plain old straight short cut fry. My current price on a case of mid-range 3/8" french fries is$16.97, for seasoned twister fries it's $28.62 (nearly $1/lb) and $21.26 for tater tots. I don't have nearly the buying power that the fast food guys do, but these prices do include several levels of discounts and restaurants would pay at least this and probably more for the same products. Not only do you have the cost of the potatoes, you've also got the cost of the oil and the labor to fry it.

                                                I also get the $4 salad substitution charge. Do I agree with it, maybe a little bit, but one of the biggest fallacies we have these days is that produce is cheap, or at least many people think it should be. Produce prices are through the roof and sideways right now due to weather, but also due a nubmer of other factors. Romaine has been adversely affected by a fungus with some growers reporting field losses of up to 60%. Yuma froze Tuesday night which affected lettuce production there. We probably won't see the impact from that freeze for several weeks, but we'll get it when lettuce supplies tighten up for a while. Once again, you've got the labor piece and I'd be surprised if part of the price didn't also include a little "discouragement" factor if the kitchen isn't prepared to routinely handle substitutions.

                                                The fast food folks have trained us to expect our food to be cheap, they make you think that by throwing those fries into the combo meal they're doing you a favor and it only costs you a little bit more. Fries used to be cheap, they pretty much aren't any more. What *is* still cheap are the fountain sodas and minimum wage employees. They're covering the expenses on fountain drinks.

                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                  I'm not questioning the $4 charge for salad at all - to me, though, what it really communicates is the cheapness of the fries they're using.

                                                  1. re: Josh

                                                    Okay, gotcha. I missed your meaning originally

                                                2. re: Josh

                                                  Hello Josh & all y'all
                                                  Great discussion, just a little clarification. Here at Ritual, the salad substitution up charge is for local organic vegetables from Suzie's Farm. Hopefully that makes a difference in your cost analysis (and the potatoes are sliced here daily :-)

                                                  1. re: barwench

                                                    Yeah, I have no complaint about the salad upcharge - I know it's for quality produce.

                                            2. re: honkman

                                              I just want to chime in to say that I LOVE Burger Lounge for what it is. As fast food, it's the best option around, and it fills other niches as well.

                                              I've been 2-3 times to Little Italy, once to the one in Kensington and twice to the Coronado Burger Lounge in the last few years, and while some visits were definitely better than others, I still think it's head and shoulders above other fast food or casual burger options for many reasons, mostly just taste.

                                              Not only do I prefer to eat grass fed beef for lots of environmental/health reasons, but to my tastebuds, the burger has a cleaner, less "muddy" flavor with the char-broil taste really shining through. I always order it medium rare, and only once did the burger arrive cooked medium, but even then it was still juicy.

                                              I love their brioche-style buns, too. I don't know if the fries are hand cut, but they're definitely always hot, crisp and deliciously fresh tasting as if made at home, and I love the parsley sprinkled on them. My standard order is the kids burger (or whatever it's called, maybe mini burger) and the 1/2 and 1/2 order of fries/rings.

                                              We have two kids, and we like the fact that it's a place we all enjoy and yet isn't mainly geared towards kids. I can actually have a decent glass of wine and hubby can have a nice beer, our teenage daughter can have a good (not mass produced) veggie burger, and we're all pretty happy. It's also a place that works if we can't do a longer more leisurely meal (as we might have at Alchemy) so we're happy that it meets most of our needs at a great price.

                                              We're probably in a minority on this board, having kids and all, and our needs are probably a bit different, but I still think I'd be going to BL if I were single or there were just two of us, although maybe not as often.

                                              So I think Burger Lounge is a home run kind of place for lots of different reasons, and I'm very happy they're in the San Diego area. Where we live (Del Mar), a Smashburger opened up within the last year, and we've tried it twice but I always find myself wishing it was a Burger Lounge instead. I see that the Counter is coming soon to Del Mar Highlands, and having tried the location in Carlsbad Forum, again, I wish it was a Burger Lounge instead. And again, the fact that BL uses grass-fed beef really makes it even more attractive to me, beyond the taste.

                                              1. re: honkman

                                                So I'm not meaning to resurrect a dead discussion, but after the ~100 posts on this place, I figured that I needed to try it for myself. Since the La Jolla location is apparently horrible, I went ahead and drove down to the Little Italy location.

                                                I have to say I agree with what honkman says about the price. Even further, I have to just say the grass fed patty was a huge disappointment. I would say the size of the patty was a big disappointment. When you go and get a restaurant burger, you are expecting a fairly thick patty so that you really get the juicy taste of the burger. At burger lounge, the patty was so thin that there was really no such thing as having the patty cooked "medium rare." I happened to order my burger medium rare and the thinness of the patty had some parts cooked well and others as what I would just call medium.

                                                I also found issue with the bun in that it got soggy very quickly. It didn't really hold up the burger well.

                                                Finally, I have to agree with whoever said the fries weren't cooked enough. I thought the fries were slightly underdone and lacking some of the crunch.

                                                1. re: karaethon

                                                  What you described is exactly what I experienced on my 5 separate visits.. Thats why I either go to in n out or go to a more upscale restaurant and pay a little more.

                                                  1. re: SDGourmand

                                                    Oh that's the thing I was saying I was agreeing with honkman. Once you order the fries with the burger, you're looking at restaurant prices. Also, I'm not sure the policy for the tipping, but I tipped 10% because it "felt" like a restaurant and someone was bringing my food to me. At that point there's virtually no difference

                                          2. re: karaethon

                                            As someone who doesn't particularly care for The Counter, I would say yes, they are better.

                                          3. Interesting discussion thus far. Ultimately, the long-term prospects for Burger Lounge hinge on the chain's ability to produce a tasty product in large quantities, not so much on its use of grass-fed beef. Chipotle did a study of its consumers and found this to be the case:


                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: bizzwriter

                                              That's ironic, because their sourcing of pork is the *only* reason I'd eat at Chipotle. I think their flavors aren't very good at all, but if I'm in a rush I might pick up a veggie burrito there.

                                              3680 Rosecrans St, San Diego, CA 92110

                                            2. And to make things even MORE interesting, I just found out that an East Coast burger chain -- Elevation Burger -- will be opening it's first California outpost, here in San Diego, sometime in Fall 2011. According to the company, "We serve only 100% USDA-certified organic, 100% grass-fed, 100% free-range beef burgers freshly ground on-premises."

                                              Anyone been?


                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: bizzwriter

                                                Nice - look forward to checking that out.