Who says that Gen Y are all a bunch of lazy, self-entitled narcissists? One guy that is certainly proving that wrong is 26 year-old, Ryan Kurban, the owner of The Beer and Burger Bar in Richmond.
When Ryan finished high school he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and after completing a one year marketing certificate (which he punched out in six months!) he knew that further study was not for him.
Luckily, his parents were supportive of him and just wanted him to do something that made him happy, which after much denial and a few years in customer service, then 21 year-old Kurban realised was hospitality.
His father, Gabriel Kurban, an executive chef himself at the esteemed Colombo’s Family Restaurant in Balwyn, was surprised to say the least and was concerned at the personal sacrifice his son would be making entering the hospitality industry.
“To work in hospitality, it has to be something you have to absolutely love doing,” says Kurban.
“I think that if you don’t get up in the morning and look forward to what you are doing, then you’re doing the wrong thing. The amount of hours I spend here [at The Beer and Burger Bar] is ridiculous, but you don’t just do it for the money, it is something I love to do.”
Initially, Kurban’s plan was to buy a small café to cut his teeth on and grow it, before selling it and moving on to something bigger.
He spent over a year looking for the right place to no avail until one of his Dad’s friends told him about a space in Richmond he owned and offered for him to come down to look at it.
However, with too many other culinary exploits going on at the time, Ryan’s Dad didn’t feel he would have the time to support Ryan in starting something from scratch, so told him that if after a year the space was still available, they would reconsider.
Just over a year passed and the space was still there…..
“Dad rang me and said ‘my friend is still bothering me about it, let’s just go have a look at it to shut them up, they wont leave me alone, then we can keep looking.’” Says Kurban, smiling.
“And I wasn’t in a hurry I just wanted to find the right sort of place. But then we saw it and realised it is actually a really cool spot. So we signed a 20 year lease for the space, just like that and then thought ‘shit, what are we going to do?’
“We didn’t have a concept yet, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, we were mostly looking at places that were already set up, but this was completely different because this was a space where I had to create something entirely from scratch. It was scary but it was cool at the same time.”
Kurban says the concept of a burger bar came to him sitting at the Richmond Club Hotel one night. He and his friends had a habit of trying out all sorts of burger joints on Tuesday nights and he suddenly realised that there was no boutique burger place in Richmond.
His Dad loved the idea and the next step was deciding on what sorts of drinks to serve. It was blindingly obvious to Kurban that nothing complimented a burger like a beer- and so the concept was born!
Being 23 and owning a business that grew from a local favourite to Melbourne institute in the space of one footy season is no mean feat. Kurban says people often mistake his father for the owner.
“At the start it was annoying that people assumed Dad owned it because I put so much into it, so I was like ‘no, it’s mine! I did it!’ says Kurban laughing.
“But it’s not really, it was a group effort. If it weren’t for my Dad I would still be digging a hole today to put the plumbing in. I didn’t have a clue about council permits and all those sorts of things like liquor licensing. I thought I did! But in the last three years I have learnt so much about people, staffing, management…. about everything.
“In my opinion the customer is here to be pleased, you are creating an environment for them to come and eat and it is not just about the food, it is the experience you give them.
“I always say to new staff members, ‘what is your local place? Why do you like it so much?’ and they always say stuff like, ‘because they know me, they know what beer I order’. That is what we are trying to do here on a huge scale.
“Of course we are here to have fun as well, if staff are happy it plays a massive part in that and customers can tell. I believe that wholeheartedly.”
The menu at The Beer and Burger Bar has the perfect balance of choice, while not being overwhelming.
While the regular beef, chicken, lamb, pork burgers can always be found on the menu, the ever-rotating specials and game burger bring welcome changes all year round.
“We have a piece of butchers paper up on the wall where we put ideas for new menu items, so we encourage staff to put ideas up,” says Kurban.
“You can tell by how often a menu item gets bought as to whether it is time for a change. When that happens we pick an idea from the board, run it by a few of the other staff and see what ideas they have. It is like doing a jigsaw, you look at it for ages and you think you cannot see where any other pieces will go and then someone else walks in and says ‘that goes there!’.
“It is not just about the combinations of what goes into a burger, but also the practicality of putting it together on a busy day, that is what we scope it on. We try to incorporate ingredients that we already use as well, if you have to take four hours of your prep time to prep one new ingredient, it doesn’t work.
“We will trial it, get the staff to taste it and see whether they like it and sometimes we will make up a version and hand them out to customers and ask what they think- we did that with the frickles (fried pickles). And you take their feedback on board,” says Kurban.
On top of the practicality and taste of the burger, there is the cost to consider.
A friend of the Kurbans’ came up with a special program that works out all of their costings, because everything is worked on margins.
Kurban’s aim is to keep food costs at around 20 to 25 per cent and the template tells them how much they should charge for a burger to make costs.
“Sometimes you might want to put truffle oil on a burger and you can charge what you want, but it is about whether people will buy it in your demographic.
“Dad came up with the idea of a lobster burger, but when we costed 125 grams of lobster into that spreadsheet, with the lobster and bun alone we would have had to charge $36 for the burger and that just wouldn’t work in our market.”
Kurban says the menu is also subject to change based on customer requests. If people are continuously asking for something, they are happy to give it a try.
And what in Kurban’s opinion epitomises the perfect burger?
“It has to be a beef burger, you have to go traditional for the perfect burger!
“It has to be a pink patty, which has changed a lot for me because I used to always have my meat well done. A light bun, I don’t like a heavy bun because I think that ruins the flavour. We use brioche rolls, some white rolls we trialled were just so dense you lost the flavour and texture of everything else in there.
“And good cheese! You go to some places and it is just that plastic stuff, on a good burger it needs to have a Swiss or Gruyere cheese or something like that. And then the mustard, it just needs to have a good balance of flavours.
“That is why I really like our beef burger, I know I am biased, but it has got the sweetness from the beetroot relish, the mustard cuts through it, the creamy aioli… It took a lot of research, we went and tried a lot of places to see what worked and what didn’t.”
When The Beer and Burger Bar was set to open, Kurban planned to sign all of his tap lines over to Carlton United Brewery, until a friend pointed out that might not cater for everyone’s taste.
He says now it is cool, because in the beginning they had to “suck up” to Carlton United Brewery to get their products, whereas now the tables have turned and they have to suck up to Kurban to get their stuff on tap at the ever-growing bar!
Currently, Kurban’s favourite burger on the menu is the buffalo burger.
“We have mixed it up as well, done it the same way twice before and then needed a change, so we have added a maple bacon croquette to it. My favourite side dish at the moment is the CCG or Chips, Cheese and Gravy- a hangover cure right there I am telling you!”
112 Swan Street, Richmond VIC 3121
(03) 9429 5934
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