Lost in grass-is-greener thought, a month before moving back to Canada, I salivated reminiscing about burgers in Canada. In particular, I remembered the trademark flavours of Harvey’s and Licks. Both restaurants pride themselves on the taste, quality, and toppings of their hamburgers, purportedly better than McDonalds and Burger King.
Both Harvey’s and Licks dress the burger “your way” in front of the customer; an empowering moment, especially for kids. As the younger and more niche brand, Licks tries to differentiate their ordering and dressing ritual by singing little songs about the burger ordered and the toppings chosen. It is fun, but singing talent and enthusiasm vary greatly by branch.
Because the customer is in control of the dressing ritual, the value maximizing customer (and Canadian consumers are all about value) tends to try to maximize toppings and say yes to multiple sauces. I used to be that guy. For me, Licks and Harvey’s were not just about the burger, they were about the plethora of flavours and the height of the sandwich.
My older son is not that guy – he is a great believer in simplicity. I took him to Lick’s, where he surprised the singing order-maker by asking for ketchup on one half and nothing on the other. “That’s it?”
“That’s it, I like ketchup, but I want to try the burger too”. Fair enough. We sat down, and as I was biting into my every-topping burger, he pulled a face. He tasted both sides of his burger and said “I can’t eat this, it’s too peppery”. I tasted it, and he was right.
The burger on its own was just not that good – it tasted like 80% beef, 15% filler, and 5% pepper. Hmmm…
Two days later we went to Harvey’s. My son ordered a half-ketchup/half-plain, and to experiment I ordered a plain burger. The queue behind me gasped as the order maker confirmed: “Nothing?”
With high hopes we sat down, unwrapped, and took our respective first bites. Looking at each other, we both knew. It was, as my Finnish bosses used to say, “Disappointing”. My son said “good, but not great.”
It got me thinking, if a product’s basic brand elements – in this case the cooked patty and the bread – can’t be amazing on their own, do rituals and loading with toppings / features / extras make it worth it? If in technology it’s unacceptable, so why is it ok for hamburgers? So began my quest for a better burger in Toronto.
My new favourite is the Burger’s Priest, on Queen St. East, and I’ll tell you why on Sunday (when it’s closed).