No beginnings can be more humble than those of the Burger's Priest. When owner Shant Mardirosian started his venture, he would have no idea that eventually his dream would explode to six locations, rave reviews, line-ups out the door, and a Zagat rating (an international restaurant rating guide). But Mardirosian's prayers were answered.
Mardirosian had originally studied for a higher calling, hoping to be a minister. That all changed when working in a New York City restaurant. Over the course of his time there, he decided he wanted to create and sell classic American cheeseburgers and do them to perfection. Regular watchers of Food Network shows will show you that all good American-style burgers start as a large meatball placed on top of a hot grill. Eventually, they are pressed into a patty and your burger comes crusty and caramelized on the outside and juicy on the interior. That is the guidance that Mardirosian started with and he has stayed on that path to delicious perfection.
Mardirosian's idea for The Burger's Priest began with a very simple idea: make something good yet different. Says Mardirosian,
"There was a dearth (of burger options) in the land. In 2006 when I had the idea, it took four years to put it together, but in that whole time there were gourmet burgers opening up. But it was more of the same style. It was the Char-Broiler, it was the pre-fabricated patties, no one was grinding in-house. That kind of stuff. Those burgers have their place, but there was no one doing the 'griddle/flat-top/"grind your own beef"' kind of thing."
He opened his first location at Queen and Coxwell in the summer of 2010. The space is confined, with only four chairs to sit on, forcing most of their business to be take-out. No matter where you eat it, the taste is heavenly. The key to the success is the premium beef that is used, ground on premises several times a day to keep up with demand. The four ounce meatballs are grilled, seasoned only with salt and pepper, allowing the beef to speak for itself. The traditional burgers are your basic single and double cheeseburgers, grilled to a holy perfection. Single hamburgers are $5.69, cheeseburger are $5.79, with both double hamburgers and cheeseburgers at $8.29. Sides include fries ($3.69) with whatever combination of chili and cheese you desire (either chili or cheese fries at $5.79, or both chili and cheese for $5.99).
However, treat yourself to the "secret menu," unlocked on the Burger's Priest website by correctly answering a question from the Bible. There, a vast array of burger options are unlocked, such as the "High Priest" ($9.79), two patties, cheese, pickles, lettuce, onions, and secret sauce. The "Low Priest" ($5.79) is the "High Priest" but in a single-patty form. With the secret menu, the stakes are higher. The "Holy Smokes" ($9.68) is a double cheeseburger topped with deep-fried jalapeños, where the "Vatican City" ($11.59) is a double cheeseburger using two grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. For people who think the burger industry has taken itself way too seriously, there's the "Religious Hypocrite" ($9.48), a veggie burger topped with bacon. The trick is that the secret menu items are not listed. You have to go in knowing exactly what to order. So, study your burgers hard and pray for success.
With a name like Burger's Priest, there are religious overtones. The Bible is quoted on the restaurant's website ("Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord lift up the light of His face upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and grant you His peace" – Numbers 6:24) and the restaurants are closed Sunday for worship. This was all part of the plan.
For Mardirosian, it's not just the name of the place, but the entire philosophy he got from the Bible.
"Burger's Priest' comes out of Genesis 1 and 2, Exodus 20 and the whole theme of what I think the Biblical narrative of how it describes people. It gets picked up in Jewish writings about a Kingdom of Priests, and meat-eating Gods of the World and the World to God. The Burger's Priest is that one thing that I wanted to redeem, not only the hamburger, but I want to do something good in terms of business and the allocation of resources."
But that helps develop the charm of the restaurant and the quality of the offering. And people notice. The Zagat Survey placed Burger's Priest third in Toronto, just behind Scaramouche and Chiado/Senhor Antonio Tapas and Wine Bar, with a staggering 28 out of 30 rating for food quality.
It's not just the reviewers, but the customers have noticed as well.
"It's the freshness that you can taste. It's so different from a lot of the other burger places that have come along. It's what a cheeseburger is supposed to taste like. The sides and buns are great, but it's totally the meat."
Arnie and Beth are retirees that bring their grandchildren in from the Beaches for a lunchtime treat. Arnie says,
"The kids love it. It's affordable and just so fresh. And it's the one time that we get to share chili and cheese fries."
As much as some like to peruse and try different burger options, some have their favourites and stick to them. When you ask Derek, 37, what he orders,
"it's a Double Cali (double cheeseburger with sautéed onions and secret sauce) every day, any day. It was the first one I had here and you don't mess with perfection."
Mardirosian takes it all in stride. Now, as he adds new locations, he's able to add more chairs, meaning more people are able to enjoy his burgers and have their own religious experience, redeeming the burger one at a time.
Title Photo: Assembly Line by Lucas Richarz