By Paul Hyland, Connacht Tribune
LIKE all of the best ideas, this one started life in the kitchen – and a €700 mobile grill. Now two Galway lads are set to take their burger business to the next level after learning their craft at any venue that would have then,
Rory McCormack and Cathal O’Connor are the duo behind Handsome Burger – aided and abetted by their staff of four as they grow their fledgling pop-up business into one with its first permanent home.
The concept is simple – gourmet burgers produced from locally sourced meat and served to a really high standard.
The execution was more difficult i that the Handsome Burger team might have loved their grub, but they weren’t entirely at home in the kitchen.
“I always had a love for food and when I lived over in London I saw that they had a load of unbelievable gourmet burger bars. I just said Galway is really missing something like this and I decided to go for it,” says Rory.
“I broke my leg so I had to come home from London. During the summer I was just cooking away. I practised a lot and in the end they (the burgers) turned out to be pretty good,” he adds.
After a summer of culinary experimentation and planning, Rory booked their first event at a medieval festival, in Claregalway, last November. He described it as a great success, although, it wasn’t without its drama.
“It was just me and about three of my friends. None of the boys had ever worked in a kitchen, so we were really thrown in the deep end. It was a good learning experience because we had around 50 people queuing for food. There was no order or anything and the grill broke halfway through our service.
“”We spent €350 each, myself and my partner Cathal, getting a grill. So we put all our money into it at the time. But it went really, really well for us. Like even though the grill broke and there was people shouting at us trying to get food. We found our feet,” he grinned.
That was the beginning – and the business developed as a pop-up restaurant, located at specific events and at a couple of country markets.
Handsome Burger are immensely proud of where they come from – and so the decision to use local produce on their menu comes as no surprise.
“We start off by getting the freshest ingredients and source everything from around Galway. I wanted to showcase Galway produce, because we know how good it is. We tested out a couple of butchers and then we selected Brady’s out in Athenry. It’s just delicious. We’re not reinventing the wheel but we’re trying to perfect the burger,” said Rory.
And now they are moving to the next stage of development, by joining forces with the people at Caribou bar in Woodquay in Galway city, where they will do the food to go along with the craft beers.
Like most budding entrepreneurs, Rory was lucky to have the support of his family to get the business off the ground. He’s particularly grateful to his mother for allowing her house to become the Handsome Burger kitchen.
“She’s been a saint really, putting up with that much raw meat passing through the house. She put up with quite a lot.
“That’s the main attraction of Caribou, we can use the kitchen in there. Cooking in that controlled environment will make things a lot easier.
“At home it’s a mad house. The main thing has been finding storage space for all the stuff. We’ve been using the fridge at home, so the family has had to cut down on their food consumption,” he laughs.
The relationships Rory and his team have built up with their loyal customers around Galway is something they are determined to maintain.
“The one thing that I was kind of conscious of, is that we’re going into a bar situation and some of our best customers have been families and kids.
“Moycullen market is pretty much where it all started for us. I want to continue doing the markets because I don’t want to lose contact with all the families and I want to make ourselves available to them,” he says.
The mantra of positivity and hard work that Handsome Burger live by starts with lads themselves.
“t doesn’t really feel like work because we’re all enjoying what we’re doing. We want to keep it professional but bring the fun element of things to it as well.
“If yo’u’re enjoying your working environment, you’re going to be a lot more productive. It if’s a fun place to work, hopefully, I think we will all do well,” he says.
The move into Caribou is down to a mix of good timing, good fortune and grabbing the opportunity.
“I brought the lads in for our first staff party in Caribou. We were all wearing our Handsome t-shirts and one of the owners came down and brought us a free round. We just started talking from there.
“They have been really supportive of us and they wanted to build us a kitchen inside to get us going. They’ve provided an excellent location, the music, the craft beers; that’s their expertise. And now we can just bring our expertise, which is the food side of things.
“People like to see young lads doing well and doing something they’re enjoying. It’s been mind-blowing really since the start, the amount of people who;ve come up to us said well done. That’s what motivates us to keep going,” he adds.
Handsome Burger at Caribou is due in early July, with a grand opening expected around July 10. For more information check out their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/handsomeburger/