Like many people I love a good burger and over the years I’ve some beautifully tasty treats sandwiched between two buns, however I have also had a number of burgers that were unbelievably bad.
In Nelson we are lucky to have very good burger joint, Burger Culture in Trafalgar St is owned by the Williams family who also own The Vic Brewbar next door and Scott Wright, “a friend who loves burgers too.”
The family ownership nature of Burger Culture brings passion to the business and as chef and part-owner Chris Williams told me “we try to have fun with everything we do”. You can feel the positivity and buzz in the place when you walk in, from the lively music to the busy staff the place feels like people care and want you to have a good experience.
The family hadn’t invested in a food business before they bought The Vic but they do bring a huge amount of experience in the hospitality industry to the business, “all four kids worked in hospo both in England and here so in many ways it’s in our blood” says Chris.
Chris says that he left England as a kid when his parents migrated here in the early 2000’s, when he left school he decided to become a chef. “I had worked in various bars and cafes to earn some money and liked the idea of working with food, I trained at Sky City in Auckland then worked for Peter Gordon at Dine and was one of the chef team that opened Hotel De Brett in Auckland that went on to win a best restaurant award in 2009.
“We were in Queenstown and me, my older brother and dad were sitting at Botswana Butchery joking about buying our own restaurant, unknown to the rest of us dad had been quietly looking for a place to buy and a couple of months later told us he had found something in Nelson.
“We didn’t go ahead with that option but loved Nelson so we spoke to the owners of the Vic and they agreed to sell it to us. “We look back on that night at Botswana Butchery with a lot of joy, and laugh at our naivety, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.”
The decision to buy the Vic business was made as a family and they also decided to work it together, “we haven’t killed each other yet. Working with family has its challenges but it’s also the best fun.”
Each person brings their own skills to this family business and that includes their partners too, “my oldest brother Phil is the General Manager and oversees both businesses and his partner, Alice, handles the accounts, together they have two kids. My younger brother, Howard, runs The Vic and is married to Samantha, they have one kid and one on the way. My sister Zoe runs Burger Culture, is single and looking (she’s going to kill me for that).
“I finally found a girlfriend, Sarah, after years of looking and I’m sure she’ll get roped in at some stage. Then, of course, there’s our parents, Ian and Sally. Without them none of this would be possible. They sacrificed everything and put it all on the line to invest in the future of their children and grandchildren – utter legends.”
Burger Culture was added to the business the family already owned after Chris and his sister went back to England a couple of years and saw the boom in burger joints. “I worked at North St Standard in Bristol which is a standalone almost American style restaurant serving things like Mac ‘n’ Cheese, burgers and that sort of thing.
“I spent a lot of money eating burgers and thought the best way for me to feed my burger habit was to have a burger restaurant and knew there was an opportunity in Nelson to do something different. We also wanted to marry our two homes – Nelson and Bristol. Both have a thriving art scene, passion for good food and an expressed interest in growing their own economy through local produce.”
Chris told me The Vic was and still is going very well and the family are proud of the eight years they have been there but he says it comes with its limitations, “it’s the opposite to here, The Vic has to be everything to everyone and serve a range of foods from bowls of chips to pasta, pies, steak and nacho’s but at Burger Culture we just have one key product and cook the hell out of it.”
The most noticeable point of different to the burgers Burger Culture make is that they use secret recipe brioche buns rather than standard bread buns to make their burgers and every bun is baked on site.
“Molly is a Swedish baker and she comes in at 5am every day to make all sorts of buns fresh each day. She is a star for us and makes everything from gluten free buns, vegan buns, keto buns and flavoured buns, as well as what we’re claiming to be Nelson’s best donuts.
“She used to start at 11pm when we closed for the day and work through the night but as the business has grown we needed more time and space to make our burger patties and she need more space to make the buns so we have leased the shop next door and turned it into a food prep space, mainly for the baking.”
While Chris says Molly is a star baker he is also quick to point out the most important part of the business is their staff, “our head chef Kieran is a qualified chef with years of experience and an incredible talent, his partner, Madolyn, helps Zoe run the front of house operation and is one of the best managers we’ve ever seen. We wouldn’t be the success we are now without these two in particular.
“Most of our staff have been in the trade for a while and while we prefer to hire trained staff we have taken on a couple of youngsters who are on apprenticeships, and trained up young Duty Managers, investing in the future of the industry.
“We don’t want people who are just there to flip burgers, I know it sounds cliché but our staff are the most important part of the business. It comes back to our business ethos that has a focus on family, staff and customers, it drives every decision we make regarding every aspect of the business.”
The Williams family are really happy with where they are at in terms of food and the customer feedback they get is really positive “but we are always tweaking the flavours and offerings and trying to stay ahead of trends, we even have the new Beyond Meat Patties that people are really enjoying.”
At Burger Culture quality is number one across every aspect of the business and that flows through to the suppliers they have developed relationships with, Hop Federation is their main beer supplier “because they are so passionate about what they do we love working with them” along with other suppliers they can rely on to provide them with free-range products that are also organic where possible.
And I say they are arguably the tastiest burgers in town. www.burgerculture.co.nz