Welcome back to One Month In, a periodic series in which Eater editors connect with chefs and restaurateurs about their first month of operation. Now up, Burgers Never Say Die, the highly-anticipated former secret burger stand with its first legit location in Silver Lake.
It’s no small thing, moving from a backyard with a few friends to a restaurant in Silver Lake in two short years. But that is precisely the trajectory that Burgers Never Say Die owner Shawn Nee found himself on after his underground smashed burgers became the talk of the town, drawing lines — and celebrities — to his home in East Hollywood.
What followed was a flurry of personal activity, with Nee weathering a backyard shutdown, a pop-up relocation to Glendale, and his first-ever restaurant build, complete with all new equipment to make fries and to grind meat in-house. Now Burgers Never Say Die is smashing out in the open for all to see, Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. So, one month in, how is it all going?
“I feel much better than I did a month ago,” says Nee from inside the Burgers kitchen before a service last week. It’s a deadpan answer and it comes with a flash of a smile, neither of which tell the whole story. Nee, a young father and husband, left his day job to handle the restaurant full-time, and the loss took his health insurance with it. He’s also experienced all the usual woes familiar to anyone inside the restaurant industry, from construction delays and cost overruns to simply just finding enough folks to come in and work. Now it’s all starting to come into focus.
“I’m at that point now where I have a bunch of really good people that are doing a lot of the things that I used to have to do,” he adds, “and they’re doing a great job at it.” That includes day one help from people like the always-chipper Burger Bonnie, who runs the front of house and keeps the customers appraised of the line length on social media.
Nee credits a series of one-off cook days inside the restaurant before opening with helping to lock in the staff and the systems he needed. He still feels pressure to be at the place all the time, but not at the “120 hours a week” level from just a month or two back. Now he gets to focus his attention on more high-level matters — including, apparently, “the cesspool that is Yelp.”
There’s the long-debated business side of Yelp, which pushes restaurants to advertise heavily, and then there are the one-star reviews that have a tendency to keep any owner up at night. Nee says he’s trying to let it go, but does admit that they’re never going to please everybody. Instead, he says: “If I have one person say ‘I didn’t like,’ but then I have the next person say this burger is their new number one, then I know I’m doing something right.”
Nee says it’s easier to find his flow in his own kitchen now, instead of with a mobile setup, and that he’s learned a lot about what it means to manage a steady stream of customers instead of in one consolidated dining window.
“The lines aren’t always there. That’s a given. But that’s fine, we don’t want a line. Saturdays are our most difficult day now because of that line. People just want to get in here like it’s a drive-thru and be handed food when they ask for it, but that just isn’t this place. You’re never going to walk into this place and just see a sloped tray of pre-cooked burgers, and wait for us to hand you one.”
Now that Burgers Never Say Die has changed its business model from limited availability and tons of anticipation to a full-on restaurant, things are pretty different. “Our expectations were based on the back yard,” Nee says, “And some things came to fruition and some didn’t. We’re adjusting.”
Nee is also quick to squash any talk of an imminent future second restaurant opening. “Right now, it’s head down and do the work,” he says. The next move, if anything, is to expand into evening hours and maybe start cooking on Sundays. Until then, Nee and the Burgers Never Say Die crew know that, as first-timers with their eye on a bigger prize, it’s important to move slowly. “I have to be able to leave this place for a week straight before we can even think of opening a second location.” And with that, Burger Bonnie up front pitches open the front door, and Nee, his staff, and those griddles get to work.
Burgers Never Say Die. 2388 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.