Larkspur begat Larkburger whose 12 locations serve topnotch burgers.
I have a scenario in my mind of a conference room in, say, Oak Brook, Illinois (McDonald’s HQ), Miami (Burger King) or Dublin, Ohio (Wendy’s) where a committee is discussing a new product or one they wish to change. They talk about the cheapest suppliers to keep costs down, plus the size of the burger, the relative size of the bun to the patty and how the entire item can be trimmed a wee bit without customers noticing. They even kick around the amounts of which condiments will be included.
Every step of the way, I imagine, they focus on each permutation’s effect on costs. Then they decide what to call the new item and how they will promote and advertise it. They discuss market testing and the roll-out into the marketplace. During every step of the way, they talk about pennies. Maybe there are focus groups somewhere in the mix, and maybe higher-ups get involved in the process. That kind of burger churned out by the millions by national chains has pitifully little to do with food or taste and everything to do with profits.
Colorado’s Larkburger, by contrast, is all about the food experience. When co-founder Thomas Salamunovich works on a new burger or tweaks an existing one, he cooks, he assembles, he tastes and evaluates. When he discusses an item, he uses phrases like “flavor profile” and “aesthetics of presentation.” My image of the Larkburger development process is of him cooking, tasting, cooking some more and then tasting along with co-founders Adam Baker (CEO and operating partner), Nancy Sweeney (creative director and Salamunovich’s wife), operations director Jim Lyon and perhaps a handful of others from the trenches).
That’s because Salamunovich is first and foremost a real chef who was trained in French cuisine at culinary school and who early in his career, worked under such California legends as Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck. In Colorado, his C.V. includes top Vail Valley restaurants, the crown jewel being Larkspur, a fine-dining restaurant serving creative contemporary cuisine that he runs at the base of Golden Peak.
With Larkburger, a small refined burger-plus chain, Salamunovich and Baker have brought their commitment to careful preparation of fresh top-quality ingredients, attractive décor and environmental conscientiousness into the world of burgers. Still, the fast-casual format and moderate prices make it popular with families. With a chef as a father, the three Salamunovich boys were raised on good food, and parents who bring their kids to Larkburger expose their young palates to quality too. The other evening, Salamunovich, Baker and others from the team came to Boulder, one of a dozen Larkburger locations (all company-owned, not franchised), to introduce themselves and, dare I say it?, the luscious Larkburger fare to local food bloggers.