Hamburger Helper: Is 2009 the Year of the Burger?

"Incredible," said Randy Garruti, the head of Shake Shack operations. "[It's] growing every day... I think people are looking for a really good, high quality product at a fair price right now -- in a comfortable, fun setting -- and that's what we're providing.

Their special technique of using paint scrapers to flip the burgers cooks in all the scrumptious juices. And you get it for less than $5.

A Burger on Every Menu?

The fact that a lot of people are buying burgers runs counter to all the trends in the restaurant business, which is effectively flailing right now.

"Things are bad and they aren't going to get better for awhile," said Ozersky. "A lot of places are circling the bull now. A lot of traffic is down. People are not going out to eat in restaurants."

Ozersky says that a struggling restaurant would be smart to put a burger on their menu.

"They would be very well advised to use all of their arts and all their powers to creating a very, very good burger at a price that people can afford to pay," he said, "[That's] the thing about a burger. You can make a great burger and still have it be affordable."

Next, we headed to Pat LaFrieda Whole Sale Meats. It is one of the oldest and most respected meat suppliers in New York, selling to nearly 500 of New York's top restaurants. Their business has changed drastically over the last year.

They have an entire room devoted to making burgers.

"Our hamburger sales have tripled in the last year," said LaFrieda, "and like I said with the economy coming down almost every restaurant has a burger on their menu... 2009 will be all burgers. I tell you that right now."

LaFrieda says the high-end restaurants aren't selling nearly as much of his dry-aged steaks, the kind that sell for $40 or $50 per steak at a Steakhouse. So he decided to turn them into burgers.

"We wanted to still bring that dry-aged flavor to the table and to do it at a third of the price from what a steak would cost [so] we made the Black Label blend. That's just how it developed."

'Burger Bling'

At about a third of the cost, in theory, you can have your $40 dry aged steak for just $12. To prove this, we ended the day at City Burger, located near New York's Time Square. They serve the Black Label burger made from Pat Lefrieda's special dry-aged meat mix.

"I mean this is like burger bling," said Ozersky. "This is a kind of status symbol, conspicuous consumption... You're only spending $12. A pizza costs more than that. But its like, I spent $12 on a hamburger and you know what? It's worth every penny. It's a bargain at $12! It is like a steak! I mean you could go to a lot of steakhouses and not have this kind of a redolent mineral funk."

Ozersky is not the only one passionate about the burger. They bring out the America in Americans.

And if the recession is going to be lengthy, at least it will taste good.

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