|FLIP Burger Boutique|
|Established||December 10, 2008|
|Current owner(s)||Ron Stewart
|Head chef||Richard Blais|
|Food type||Contemporary American cuisine|
|Street address||1587 Howell Mill Rd NW|
|Other locations||Atlanta, Georgia
Flip Burger Boutique (stylized as FLIP) is an upscale full-service restaurant located on 1587 Howell Mill Rd NW in the West Midtown section of Atlanta, Georgia. It is owned by Ron Stewart, and created by Richard Blais and Barry Mills. Flip Burger Boutique serves contemporary American cuisine; the restaurant offers eighteen variants of a hamburgers, as well as eight various side orders.
Mills conceived the concept of Flip Burger Boutique, and he later collaborated with Blais in developing the restaurant. Blais had previously traveled to burger restaurants in several cities in the United States, and avouched that none had executed an akin concept. It opened its first location in the West Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta; other franchises followed suit in the Buckhead district of Atlanta and The Summit in Birmingham, Alabama. Flip Burger Boutique has been well-received by food commentators, who cited its ambiance and food as its highlights. As well as being a critical success, the restaurant has made a cultural impact on the city of Atlanta, where it has been credited to increasing competition amongst hamburger restaurants.
Barry Mills initially thought of the restaurant's concept, and wanted to embrace and expanded the definition of a what he thought was a hamburger. Although he sought inspiration from the new growth of hamburger eateries in Los Angeles and New York City, Mills disliked their approaches. Mills asserted that their traditional approach to a hamburger would hinder innovation. "What I didn't like about those concepts was that they were still bound to the traditional diner-style image and weren’t updating the restaurant around the modernized burger menus, " he stated. "So, I decided that if I was going to reinvent a burger menu, then I better modernize and redefine the entire restaurant."
Richard Blais collaborated with Barry Mills in creating the concept of Flip Burger Boutique. Blais was chosen as the creative director for Flip Burger Boutique; Mills felt that Blais could accurately modernize a burger to his liking. He stated, "When I first starting visualizing this concept, Blais was the chef that came to mind as the one to modernize the burger. He is so creative and really complements our concept." Blais noted that the word 'flip' denoted that they were "turning things on their side and doing some burgers that, for most people, are going to sound pretty unique." He felt that Mills' visions were innovative and challenging; "You know, I mean, thinking about Top Chef, this was a great challenge: Let's take the burger and see how far we can stretch it without really going too far. Everyone's thoughts about burgers are so personal." Upon creation, Blais and Mills sought to develop and finalize a definition of what they thought was a burger. He traveled in several places in the United States, including New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, where he indulged at several burger restaurants. Blais asserted that no eatery that he visited devised a similar concept. He stated: "I've been all over the country eating whatever is the best burger or best concept in all these cities, and no one is doing this, no one is approaching it this way."
Although Five Guys was identified by as a potential competitor to Flip Burger Boutique, Blais disagreed with such sentiment. While commending the chain for its distinguishable concept in comparison to its peers, he stated that there "is no competition as far as quality." "Whether it's Five Guys or The Counter, those guys are saying, 'Hey, this is our burger and you get these toppings on it. You can mix and match, do whatever you want.' That's pretty much the extent of it," Blais affirmed. "Some creativity, but not really. A lot of, 'Aw, it's just a burger. Let's not play around too much with it."
Blais admitted that fluctuating prices on food could serve as a potential obstacle in developing Flip Burger Boutique, especially considering that he intended to add expensive meats such as veal on the menu. He stated: "Right now we're eating a lot of it. We were willing to from the beginning of the concept." He added that profits would be based off of the volume of its customer base, rather than ensuing high prices on its menu; "I'm going to guess that most of these other concepts are, are in the mid- to high-20s. We'll get there just based on volume, based on the fact that we continue to work on our prices and the more we grow, the better."
Prior to the grand opening of Flip Burger Boutique, Blais revealed several of the restaurants menu items on his blog. The West Midtown location was scheduled to open on December 5, 2008, but was later rescheduled five days later on December 10. A year succeeding the opening of its original location, Flip Burger Boutique expanded outside of the Atlanta market in Birmingham, Alabama; its opening commenced at The Summit on December 19, 2010 adjacent to The Cheesecake Factory. Ron Stewart, one of the owners of the first Atlanta franchise, was initially born and raised in Birmingham. Blais stated, "We are trying to make sure that we open our locations in places that mean something to us. Birmingham is where Ron grew up. He's still got family there." Andrew Nix was chosen as the executive chef, while Mark Manna attained the position of corporate chef of the location. A third location opened on October 19, 2010 in the Buckhead district of Atlanta. It is located at a former Blockbuster location at the Tuxedo Festival Shopping Center. Mills and Blais opened the franchise in the hopes that it would emulate the successes of its original restaurant. Mills pursued architecture firm ai3 to design the interior of the restaurants.
Flip Burger Boutique is proposed to broaden its presence in Washington, D.C.. It was intended to be established at the Penn Quarter neighborhood in Spring 2010, but never materialized due to failed leasing negotiations. Richard Blais announced that he was nearing a deal to lease at another location in the city, and added that the Washington location would differ from his franchises in Atlanta and Birmingham. He stated that it would be more interactive with local farmers, and would create its own distinguished flavor. New York City and Miami were added as potential sites of expansion. Blais said that he was most interested in setting up in Miami, while he stated that he'd like "to do the prodigal son sort of thing" in New York. In addition, he said that there would be locally themed sandwiches on the menu.
Barry Mills believed that despite the possibility of higher prices, Flip Burger Boutique would be able to expand countrywide with ease due to its emphasis on the quality of its food. "Over the next five years, the better burger movement is going to divide into two separate categories. The two left standing will be the cheapest better burger and the best better burger. My goal is to be the best burger in whatever cities we're in. I really don't care about cheapest."
The menu of Flip Burger Boutique is contemporary American cuisine. Described as "fine dining between two buns", the restaurant carries eighteen different variations of a hamburger on their menu. The menu accounts for approximately 34% of the annual budget of Flip Burger Boutique. Side orders include vodka-battered onion rings, french fries, fried pickles, sweet potato tater tots, potato salad, pan roasted brussel sprouts, and thai bouli. It offers several specialty milkshakes, such as the Krispy Kreme milkshake. Doughnuts comprise of half the composition of the milkshake. Blair retorted: "Krispy Kreme [will] probably shut us down at some point [laughter]. But until they shut us down, we have a Krispy Kreme milk shake, and you can get fries and a burger, and that's a pretty big meal calorie wise. But you can come in the next day and get a mushroom burger, which is all vegetables, and a side of cauliflower or salad. We’re even doing burgers without buns. That's how I’m eating them because I have to taste them everyday. I know the bread is good; I've tasted enough of it."
Flip Burger Boutique features the world's first milkshake nitrogen bar. Blais had previously experimented with liquid nitrogen for four to five years. He exclaimed that he was "one of the only few dozen chefs in the country that has been experimenting with it. You're talking about maybe two or three chefs in the Southeast who even have it in their kitchen." Ice cream and milkshakes are prepared by pouring the liquid nitrogen, followed by mixing the solution with kitchen appliances such as a blender, mixer, and KitchenAid. "It makes the ice cream so quick that we don't really have to hold the ice cream in a freezer for any amount of time, which is great," he articulated. "We're making it and basically spinning it fresh everyday. It's super quick so you are getting these ice creams and shakes that don't have any ice crystals in them. When ice cream sits in the freezer, it gets that frost on it. We don't have to worry about that." After mixing, liquid nitrogen is poured on the top of the ice cream, enabling a smooth and soft texture.
Blair also uses nitrogen is used in producing french fries. He felt that it was one of the more fascinating processes, adding that the nitrogen extended the freshness of a potato. A potato generally spends approximately three days going through "spa treatments". He explained the process further: "This potato is most likely from Idaho. It's been stressed out. It’s been in a warehouse for a year, and we have to refresh it. Really, I'm trying to be funny about saying 'spa' but it goes through a lot of different things that you might go through if you go to the spa." Because it is stressed, the potatoes sits in cool water over a period of forty-eight hours. It is then cooked at a temperature of 200°F for 5–10 minutes so that the heat would be evenly distributed throughout the fries. "From there, they get dipped in the nitrogen," Blais resumed. "The nitrogen biogenically flash freezes them. And a lot of prepared fruits are being treated like that, just no one is out there saying, 'Hey your fries have been flash frozen and fish sticks have been dipped in nitrogen.' Then I freeze them real quick so we have this super soft potato that can cook all the way through. When you order, we fry them."
Flip Burger Boutique features a large assortment of vegetarian options on their menu, uncommon of a typical burger restaurant. "We're doing a lot of fresh vegetables. We want you to come in and get a burger with, say, today the vegetables are cauliflower salad and it works." The restaurant also features a variety of condiments, which are largely produced via molecular gastronomy. In one instance, Blais creates a jam from red wine and a cheese spread from Cheez Wiz. Blais and his group were eating cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. "We were like, 'You know, this Cheese Whiz would be great on a burger.' So we have a burger in honor of the Philly cheese steak," he stated. "But it's kind of corny to just bring out the Cheese Whiz or slap on some cheese so here's where we're taking an inspiration [...] and then some molecular gastronomy using a siphon and using a seal with two charges. Really what we're making is a cheese foam. Here's a processed food, but we're inspired by it. We're Americans. We grew up using Cheese Whiz and Ready Whip. If I said we made a cheese foam that would be very molecular, fancy. At the end of the day, though, they're the same thing. Ready Whip is foam."
Flip Burger Boutique has been well-received by food critics. Kate Parrot of Date Night Magazine wrote that "this one-of-a-kind burger bar is far from the other greasy joints around town." In her five star review, Paula Disbrowe of Sky avouched that Blais created an inventive spin on hamburgers, and summated that "you'll flip for these tiny, gourmet burgers." Go wrote that Flip Burger Boutique "spices up the American classic with organic beef, homemade condiments and artisanal buns." Food & Wine journalist Dana Cowin opined: "Richard Blais's 'burger boutique' is mod, ambitious and delicious. The famed marshmallow-and-Nutella milk shake delivered. And sweetbread nuggets were an excellent surprise." Writing for the same publication, Emily Kaiser Thelin echoed synonymous sentiments; "one of his liquid-nitrogen milk shakes would be fabulous with any of the burgers, from the classic all-American Flip Burger to the Bun Mi: seared pork sausage with pickled ginger and Asian-spiced slaw." Wine & Spirits writer Krista Reese praised the pricing of the menu, and well as its unique ingredients. Reese articulated: "The burgers draw long lines at all hours, as much for the meat as for sides like sweet potato tater tots with blue cheese foam and the drinks: liquid nitrogen pistachio milkshakes; a cream soda of vanilla Cognac, vanilla liqueur, cream and ginger ale; and a rye Manhattan given a twist with smoky, caramelized cherries."
Maxim ranked its burgers and milkshakes as the best lunch of 2011. Besha Rodell of Creative Loafing issued the eatery a three stars, citing the pâté melt, shrimp boygor, and the lamburger as menu highlights. She concluded that Flip Burger Boutique "deserves its own share of the limelight. [...] Flip invites us to revert to childhood, where we can all stop taking ourselves so seriously and find that tear-open-the-wrapper kind of enthusiasm we may have lost along the way to adulthood. There's still a lot of joy to be found in a burger and milkshake." Mark Gindick, a performer for the Big Apple Circus, affirmed that Blais treated his burgers as a gourmet recipe. He stated: "All you need is a burger and a milkshake and you're totally stuffed. I had a Kobe burger there that I loved and a Nutella milkshake with toasted marshmallows. There's also a Krispy Kreme milkshake that tastes exactly like a Krispy Kreme donut. And there’s a full bar. What else could you want?" In her four star review, Meridith Ford of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described the menu as "fun", and asserted that it allowed Blais to "play with the whimsical goofiness that makes him, well, him."
The architecture and the atmosphere of the chain's restaurants were lauded by critics. Katy McLaughlin of The Wall Street Journal affirmed that Flip Burger Boutique looked like "stylish diners, with hip touches like a loft ceiling or a wavy dining counter." Parrot evaluated the restaurant as "funky" and "unpretentious", while Rodell adulated that "Flip's clean modern lines and playful aesthetic are apparent before you even turn into the parking lot. Once inside, it's obvious that fun is the objective."
Flip Burger Boutique has been credited for initiating and increasing competition among the restaurant scene in Atlanta, particularly amongst restaurants specializing in hamburgers. Coining the phenomenon as "burger wars", Jon Watson of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution felt that even though city "had plenty of fantastic hamburger joints that had been in business for years before Flip opened their doors, Blais' celebrity combined with his left-of-center cooking techniques and wildly creative burger selection stirred up a foodie frenzy. I might even go so far as to call it a 'hoopla'."
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