With US-based Elevation Burger firmly established in Kuwait at The Avenues, a second location opening next month in Al-Hamra Mall, a location in Bahrain and more coming in Dubai, Muscat and Riyadh, bazaar thought it would be a good idea to sit down with the CEO and Founder of Elevation Burger and find out just what make his burgers taste so damn good.
Hans Hess founded Elevation Burger in 2004 for purely selfish reasons; he could not find the burger he wanted at any other burger place. Lucky for us then that Hess has great taste. The burger he was looking for was made from freshly ground, organic, grass-fed beef. He tells me, “We started eating organic and started thinking about what our kids would be eating, we knew that families, and people in general, were looking for a product that didn’t exist in the marketplace.” Hess doesn’t think that the humble burger is an inherently unhealthy food despite the tough press it’s received over the years.
Beef in itself is not unhealthy. “Grass-fed, organic beef is much different than factory-farmed beef burgers,” he tells me. Factory beef is fed corn because it is a very cheap source of calories that will fatten the cow quickly. Cows’ stomachs’ however, are not designed to process grain and so they get sick. To ensure the cow reaches the desired weight, they mix antibiotics in with the grain. Add to this the fact that the cows are cramped together in feedlots where airborne bacteria also cause respiratory infections and what you end up with is, simply, sick cows. This produces a beef lacking in nutrients and vitamins, but loaded with antibiotics that get passed onto the eater. Hess tells me that in the US, 240,000 people a year require a medical grade dose of antibiotics to fight off various illnesses, as their bodies have built up resistance to regular doses due to antibiotic intake from factory beef.
How do you solve this? The beef Elevation Burger uses comes from cows that graze in pastures and eat only grass. That’s it. This results in healthier cows which in turn produce healthier beef, packed with nutrients and vitamins. Take that beef and grind it fresh everyday on the premises and what you get is downright tasty burgers for the customer.
So Hess chose the name Elevation to illustrate what he wanted to do – take the classic burger and make it better. He tells me, “We are all about simple. The best way to build a brand is to focus on one thing. It’s hard enough to do one product really well and we’re not interested in distracting ourselves with other things.” This is why you won’t find any chicken on their menu, or breakfast items, not even hot dogs. Hess continues, “we have a focus on delivering the right product and delivering it excellently.” He set out to elevate the burger and so that’s where the sole focus stays.
When Hess talks about delivering his product with excellence, there’s a lot more to it than just his beef. A lot of the materials they use to construct their stores are sustainable. Bamboo flooring paired with recycled tiles, and tables made from a by-product of sorghum grass to name a few. The tables are not only sustainable; the sorghum also produces a beautiful finish. Elevation Burger uses one of the most energy efficient griddles on the market to cook their burgers and they also recycle discarded oil into biodiesel.
It seems those new to Elevation Burger come for differing reasons. Some are drawn to the organic aspect and then keep coming back because the burgers taste so good. Others hear about the burgers and later learn about organic, grass-fed, and all the other benefits. Either way, everybody ultimately eats here because they serve great food. Hess explains, “The consumer starts with taste. Two-thirds of any given population won’t be judging you on whether it’s organic or not, they’ll judge you on taste and so it has to taste good.” He tells me how the organic and sustainable food market has doubled in the last ten years in the US. Books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and films like Supersize Me and Food, Inc have helped outline the problems with mass produced, processed food.
But if we’re being honest, most people would prefer to devour a burger than a book. Hess tells me, “Not many people are going to pick up ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ so it’s up to people like us to actually make it real in people lives.” What better way to do this than taking all the information available, translating it to better ingredients, grilling up something entirely tangible, smothering it in cheese (real cheese, of course), serving it up with fries cooked in heart-healthy olive oil and allowing people to simply taste the difference.
You may, for good reason, be asking yourself then, why all beef is not grass-fed. The simple answer is that farming in the US is big business. Hess tells me that in the USA, 16 million acres of corn is grown for the sole purpose of feeding cattle. Industrial farming uses heavy equipment that runs on petroleum based products and they also spray the crops with petroleum based fertilizers. Grassland should be carbon negative. Farming corn like this isn’t even carbon neutral. Growing corn produces carbon dioxide! Grazing cattle on this land would not only produce better beef but the grass would also sequester carbon dioxide. The problem; it is not as profitable.
Hess admits that he too is interested in profits but would like to make his by producing a better product. He tells me, “We are trying to make a dent in the problem, to tear a corner off the darkness, but it’s going to take much more than that to change the farming system.” But Elevation Burger is trying to make a difference and most importantly by doing so they are making a better burger, so everybody wins.
Hans Hess prefers his Elevation Burger with caramelized onions, dill pickles, ketchup and elevation sauce. However you order yours, and whether you eat it because it’s tasty or because it’s organic, you can always feel good about contributing to trying to make the world just a little better. So go ahead and order yourself another.
Elevation Burger is located in Phase II of The Avenues and will soon be opening in Al-Hamra Mall. For more information visit Facebook: Elevationburger.kw or call 2259 7516.