Hamburger Helper: Is 2009 the Year of the Burger?

With the real estate market reeling, car companies crumbling, and the economic outlook ominous, there is one delicious, juicy exception -- the burger.

The succulent, savory American staple has continued to thrive, and even grow in popularity during tough economic times.

Burgers Take Manhattan

Photo: Hamburger Helper: The Savory Staple Rebounds With Diners During Tough Economic Times
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"And it always will boom because the burger is omnipotent and irresistible," said Josh Ozersky, the national restaurant editor of CitySearch.com and author of the blog "The Feedbag." "It can never be weakened. It can never be slowed down. It can never stop its ever-increasing growth and popularity. It's the most single powerful force in the food universe."

Apparently, Ozersky is not alone in his love affair with the burger. In this economy, he has received a lot of company.

"The hamburger is a way that people can experience everything that's great about eating beef," said Ozersky. "The flavor, the tenderness and everything, [is there] in a way that's affordable and in a way that also you know that doesn't make them feel so enervated."

To showcase the strength of the burger, "Nightline" accompanied Ozersky on a burger tour across Manhattan, starting at The Spotted Pig restaurant, where celebrity chef April Bloomfield whipped up two patties -- medium rare.

"If you come in here on any given night, 80 percent of the people are eating hamburgers," said Ozersky. "I believe that this is the only Michelin starred restaurant in history to get its star largely on the strength of its hamburgers."

Seven percent more restaurants are offering burgers than did two years ago with the biggest boom coming in fine dining establishments. For diners, it's good eating. For restaurants, it's simply good business.

"The other thing is that it's easy," said Ozersky. "You know, there's a big part of the restaurants is how laborious and complicated putting together some of these dishes are. [With] a hamburger, all you need is a flat top and a spatula."

Burger Appeal 'Growing Every Day'

It's no accident that McDonald's is one of only two stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average that went up last year.

It is the burger for which consumers across the country are casting aside the pomp, the fluffy and the garish garnishes for the ultimate comfort food.

"A hamburger is the most universal symbol of what it means to be an American," said Ozersky. "I don't care what anybody says. You know the citizenship test where they [ask about] George Washington? They should have them say what a hamburger is. Because if you were in Afghanistan or, you know, or Mordor or whatever, the hamburger is something that is infinitely more recognizable as a symbol of America than George Washington is."

All this is really a far cry from the nutritional and environmental outrage that seemed to be popping up the last few years about burger makers and their practices.

"Nobody cares about any of that," said Ozersky. "People love hamburgers and nobody cares about any of the social and environmental or health effects about them."

While that may not be true for everyone, it appears Americans can't imagine life without them.

Ozersky's next stop was the always-busy Shake Shack, one of the most popular burger joints in New York City. People line up around the block to eat there, and the Shack goes through 2,000 pounds of beef in a weekend. So, how is business?

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