Original Story, October 2011: This Saturday, I visited THE BURGER’S PRIEST in Toronto.
Even before you try the burger, you hear the story first, and it’s quite crazy. That’s the way a brand should be. I have had quite a few people tell me that the Burgers Priest was clearly the best in Toronto. But then they get into the storytelling of what they know. Part of the story is this idea of a secret menu, that you have to ask for. Funny enough but if you google “Priest Secret Menu”, you’ll see about 15 stories come up from various Food Critic reviews. Confirms that it’s a marketing ploy–and a great one for driving word of mouth. The second part of the story is that the owner, who most describe as crazy, even though they never likely interact with him. Apparently, one day he was looking for a really good burger and couldn’t find one. So, he decided to just get in his car and drive until he could find one. He ended up in his car for six months, traveling all through the US from New York to the South, through Texas and Out to California and back. He was intent on learning about the secrets of the best hamburgers he could find. He’s has photos, up at the Priest, of all the great burger places that inspired this burger. Once back, he took all the great ideas and build his own burger. He’s layered in the idea that this burger is a religious experience, with the priest’s idea. And the mission is to “redeem the burger one at a time”. That’s the brand story anyway.
Now with a brand story, you need to create buzz. Word of mouth on this is amazing. When I got there, just before noon on Saturday, there were already 10 people in line about 10 minutes before the place was open. I also saw the attached sign, asking people to line up to the left to avoid blocking the entrance to the Apartment. I looked for the apartment, and it’s about a good 50 feet away.
So clearly, all the story and mystique has created a word of mouth that is getting people to travel for this burger. It’s 45 min from my house, and I ran into someone I knew who lives 45 minutes the other way. Both of us just felt compelled to try it. Keep in mind, the stories he’s created help drive word of mouth and in turn demand. The line up makes things much more predictable for him, so the food is fresher/better tasting. He can manage his inventories, staff accordingly and drive down his costs by driving up his volume. Plus, I would have paid anything at this moment for the burger. Lastly, I started to tell my friend in line that about the Five Guys burger I had which was amazing and a stranger jumped into our conversation to defend his priest, saying it’s not even close. Already has brand advocates defending the brand. He’s clearly working his branded business system.
As for the burger, it was ideal. I’d say it’s a tie with Five Guys Burgers–which has a story unto itself–with celebrity endorsements like Obama and Shaquille O’Neil. Both use the same technique of keeping the burger juicy while ensuring it’s well done on the outside. Very similar taste. (More bacon on the Five Guys, and the Fries are better) The fries at the Priest need improving to be great. Poor Licks, a Toronto icon for many years, has been losing out the last few. The only good thing about Licks now, is there’s never any wait and you can have a nice quiet meal (e.g. no one goes there)
For those of you looking for a great burger, I’d recommend it for sure. For those of you looking for unique marketing and seeing how a small business is trying to drive a BELOVED BURGER, this is a great example. Not sure if he spent six months figuring out the world’s best burger, or just six months becoming the world’s best marketer. A great brand in the making.
Top 3 Burgers in Toronto (my view)
- Five Guys Burgers
- Burgers Priest
- Craft Burger (now the Big Smoke)
Nov 16th, 2011, Update to the Story: Burger’s Priest opening a second location in North Toronto, on Yonge Street between York Mills and Lawrence. Great location choice. Talk of further expansion into the West end of Toronto, likely High Park or Bloor West Village. Need a good income level to afford 9 dollar burgers. It will be interesting to see how many they put into Toronto, and then into the rest of Canada. One big fan of the Priest who I told was actually disappointed about the expansion plans.