Welcome to The Hot Dish, a behind the scenes look at the making of the dishes of the moment. Up this week, Stuff Em builds its most popular burger: the Why So Cheesy.
Mike Zakarian started working in restaurants at 19. He began as a dishwasher, then graduated to server, before eventually landing as a manager at a local Italian restaurant. Through it all, he knew he had a knack for presenting likeable food to the populus. In October 2013, he forged out on his own and took on a small space within a food court nearby Santee Alley in Downtown despite his SFV residency, naming it Stuff Em.
His burger shack started with a signature-stuffed burger: "Juicy Lucy". But Zakarian is a chef of the people, and the people casually suggested a mac 'n cheesed stuffed burger. The result was "Why So Cheesy", a 1/3 lb beef patty stuffed with macaroni and cheese. Meanwhile, Stuff Em had a dilemma: 90% of their orders were delivery and there was no way to keep the fries crunchy without going frozen.
Freshness is Stuff Em's dogma (down to the pink lemonade) and the solution to the soggy fries came in the form of the pre-existing cold station. Zakarian went back to his Armenian (born in Iraq, raised in Jordan) roots and started stocking Middle Eastern salads of couscous, beets, and chick peas. The Fashion District went wild.
In spite of the success, Stuff Em, with its in-house ground beef patties made in an incredibly minuscule space organized to a tee, remains mostly under-the-radar, and still runs on a 3-man team: driver, FOH, cook.