Here in Lawrence, KS, we have a special restaurant called Local Burger that serves local, organic, and natural fast food – burgers, hot dogs, fries, milkshakes. Local Burger founder, Hilary Brown, and her restaurant have been featured by Outside, Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Vanity Fair, the Sundance Channel, Sprig.com, and elsewhere. Local Burger is loved by people and critics alike, including myself, for its unique business model. So when I heard about Burgerville, a burger chain with 39 locations in the Northwest that uses local and seasonal foods, I wanted to find out more.
A big difference between the two is scale. With 1,500 employees, 39 locations, and over 45 years of experience, Burgerville does much more business. With a larger scale, they are able to use 100% wind-power, reduce 85% of waste sent to landfills through a chain-wide composting and recycling program, and convert recycled canola oil to biodiesel. The meat Burgerville uses comes from Oregon’s Country Natural Beef and a complete list of local providers is available on their site. The chain also provides a $15-a-month healthcare plan to its employees. Burgerville is an example showing that fast food can be successful while still serving the triple bottom line.
Founded in 2005, Local Burger does not have roots as deep, though Brown says she plans to expand when the time is right. The single Local Burger location is in downtown Lawrence and does not feature a drive-through. Local Burger has small portions which may be better for your waistline, but might not be what you would expect from a burger joint. Burgerville, on the other hand, was made famous by the “colossal burger.” While Burgerville with their drive-throughs, is an in-and-out experience, Local Burger feels more like a restaurant. It also sells packaged family farm meats and other sustainable food products in the store and has been a distribution point for food co-ops and CSAs, showing a strong commitment to the local food shed.
Not all locally-sourced burger joints are created equal. Both places support a regional economy, serve seasonal, local, and sustainable burgers, fries, and milkshakes, and get food to you in a flash, but there is a large difference in atmosphere, scale, and portion size. While Local Burger is just getting started, Burgerville has been doing business for decades. Whether Local Burger will develop a business model similar to Burgerville, with drive-throughs and bigger portions, remains to be seen. Bringing locally-sourced food into a fast food context is an important step towards sustainability and a difficult process, and you win with either establishment.