Local burger joint De Burg hungry to grow footprint

HOMEGROWN burger joint De Burg is on the lookout for franchisees to expand its operations both in Singapore and overseas. Co-founder Andrew "Encik Burger" Sim, who is on the hunt, believes that the brand will do well in IndoChina, pointing to countries such as Laos and Myanmar as American-style food grows in popularity in those markets.

"I want to bring this brand, flying Singapore's flag, around the world," he told The Business Times in an interview.

But a firm criteria for any partner is a deep love of burgers.

"I set up De Burg out of passion, not just to make money," he stressed.

Mr Sim started out in the food and beverage (F&B) industry as a teenager waiting tables at Raffles Courtyard in the Raffles Hotel, before going on to work as an operations manager at a club and then signing on with the Singapore Air Force.

After six years with the Air Force, he worked as a freelance consultant, taking on projects in Thailand and the US with companies setting up F&B establishments.

"Whenever I was back in Singapore, I craved a good burger," said the 41-year-old, adding that he used to miss American grub. "In 2006, there weren't any gourmet joints."

But his time spent rubbing shoulders with chefs in New York taught him a thing or two and he decided to make his foray into the F&B industry after his home-made burgers proved popular with his friends.

In 2007, Mr Sim started Sunshine Cafe together with a partner at Sommerville Park condominium, lured by the affordable rental as he didn't want to take on too much risk.

"The main killer for businesses is the rent," he pointed out.

But when a change in policy in 2009 restricted the public from entering the condo to patronise the restaurant, he began sourcing for a new location. Backed by a silent investor, Mr Sim went on to open De Burg at a Ghim Moh coffee shop in 2010.

"I like to defy the odds and wanted to prove the point that gourmet or restaurant-style food can be achieved in a low-end setting," said Mr Sim, adding that the coffee shop setting was a logical choice. "I'm a Singaporean, this is a Singaporean brand."

In 2012, De Burg moved to Alexandra Food Village before relocating again to its current premise at CT Hub along Kallang Avenue in February last year. In all, S$30,000 has been invested towards the business over the last five years.

Photo: De Burg

While his burgers aren't cheap - as some online reviews have pointed out - Mr Sim defends his pricing, pointing to the quality of the ingredients used. A basic cheeseburger goes for S$11.50 while his signature burger is over S$19.

"You have to eat and taste the food. The meat that we're using . . . is all from Australia. All of our patties and sauces are handmade and done in-house," he asserts. "I'm very particular about my meat. We do not use patty binders, like flour, egg or breadcrumbs."

Instead, the patties are left to chill over night, letting the natural enzymes bind the meat. "That's why you get a juicy burger," he added.

He doesn't mince his words when it comes to those who are rude to his service staff either, adding that he has kicked out disrespectful customers in the past.

De Burg goes through about 20-30 kg of meat per day to make his sizeable creations, which can include anywhere from 100-600g of meat each, depending on the burger.

While business in the first few months started out at Kallang "with a bang", sales started to slow down after in line with the economy.

"No one is spending money anymore," he laments, also acknowledging the competitive and saturated F&B market with plenty of choice for consumers.

In its first six months, De Burg was selling 150-160 burgers a day. These days, a quiet day could see it doing a third of that. For a five month period last year, the outlet was running losses but sales have picked up since.

To drum up awareness, Mr Sim is leveraging on food delivery services such as Deliveryroo, running promotions and tying up with daily deal sites. "I decided to change my mindset; to earn less, but still earn," he said.

The extra orders from delivery services mean additional sales and also help curb losses from left-over inventory.

It is a tough industry, he acknowledged, made tougher by social media in a day and age where anyone with a keyboard becomes a "food critic".

But "Encik Burger" continues to soldier on, taking pride in serving up unique offerings - some of which are his own creations.

"If customers come, we know we've done something right," he added.


This article was first published on March 14, 2016.
Get The Business Times for more stories.