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Adding Israeli spice to the burger mix

by Jared Sichel

April 24, 2013 | 11:34 am

Owner Ashley Gershoony prepares one of Burgerim’s mergez sliders. Photos by Jared Sichel

Owner Ashley Gershoony prepares one of Burgerim’s mergez sliders. Photos by Jared Sichel

Southern California could be considered the epicenter of the hamburger universe. It’s where burger innovation was immortalized — the first cheeseburger allegedly was invented in Pasadena — and where every possible type has already been there, done that. (One Santa Monica restaurant tops its burgers with onion fondue and house-made rémoulade.) 

Leave it to an Israeli burger chain to disagree. Burgerim — which opened in Israel in 2008 and has 62 all-kosher stores there — recently opened its first American branch right here in Burgertown, USA, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. 

Its angle: a wide variety of meats and spreads on slider-sized buns offered in a gourmet, mix-and-match menu. For example, patrons can chow down on a mergez (a lamb and beef sausage) burger with harisa (red, hot pepper sauce) or a chicken burger with Moroccan tomato salad.

The smaller sizes, which can be consumed in a couple of bites —  are intentional, according to Ashley Gershoony, a partner in the local franchise.

“Everybody’s on a diet, so they get a burger in a smaller size,” Gershoony said. 

And for people not on a diet?

“Instead of eating one plain beef burger, they can eat two different meats,” she said. “If it’s too big, nobody’s going to try the lamb and the Kobe. But if it’s a smaller size, they get to have fun with both.”

Gershoony, 25, decided to create a Burgerim franchise in the United States with the help of her cousin, Oren Loni, who owns the Israeli company.

Although Gershoony has modified the Israeli menu for American tastes — patrons can still get the familiar ground-beef burger with shoestring or sweet potato fries —  it was in Israel’s Burgerim restaurants that the idea of these Mediterranean-inspired  patties originated. White Castle sliders these are not.

Customers at Burgerim can choose from nine different burgers, including ahi tuna and veggie, all of which come on a challah bun. Every burger is only about 3 inches wide and weighs three-quarters of an ounce, markedly smaller than a 4-ounce burger (quarter-pounder). 

So someone looking to go all-in for lunch may want two, three or even four burgers. For someone just looking for a healthy snack, though, a turkey burger with a quinoa salad may be more tempting — not a typical combo at the average burger joint.

For $9.25 and a 10- to 15-minute wait, a customer can get a veggie slider with an Israeli salad and soda. There’s seating for around 30 people, with tables both indoors and outside. 

Jonathan Bevineto, one of two managers at the West Hollywood branch, traveled to Israel to get a taste of Burgerim in the Holy Land. Although the menu here has been adjusted for American taste buds, it still retains the original’s distinct Mediterranean flair. 

“We are different,” Bevineto said. “We’ll have certain burgers that these places will not have.”

One can order a lamb burger with Moroccan-dusted onion rings, along with several spreads, including hummus, tahini and garlic aioli. Every burger comes with an unlimited amount of spreads, served in small cups perfect for dipping the slider-sized burgers, and sweet beignets are available for dessert. 

Bevineto said that Burgerim’s location on Santa Monica Boulevard attracts a lot of walkers who are looking for a snack, making its bite-sized burgers a nice alternative to the bulky and messy ones found elsewhere. After eating at Burgerim, he said, “You can still go for a run.”

Bevineto will assist future franchisees in establishing their own Burgerim branches. As is standard in the franchising field, the Burgerim parent company helps new franchises pick a site location, map out architectural designs and construction plans, and assists with marketing. According to its guidelines available online (BurgerimUSA.com), franchise agreements come in 10-year increments. Each franchise pays the parent
6 percent of annual sales.

Gershoony received eight weeks of franchise training — the standard duration for anyone looking to open a Burgerim restaurant — and partnered with two local Chinese investors. The eatery currently has two managers and a staff of 14. Gershoony hopes that the American market’s demand for Burgerim mirrors that of Israel’s, and, to that effect, she said that within 90 days another branch in Los Angeles will open. If all goes well, in the near future Burgerim will have a kosher franchise in the area, too, Gershoony said.

Her plans are for Burgerim to expand into other California cities and, eventually, across America. For now, though, she wants to establish Los Angeles as Burgerim’s American headquarters.

“L.A. is a hot spot,” she said. “Everybody comes to L.A.” 

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