Manitoba

Ready, set, eat: Le Burger Week kicks off in Winnipeg as restaurant owners prepare for hungry sandwich lovers

This year, 124 restaurants across Winnipeg and a few outside the city are vying for the "best burger" title.

124 restaurants in Winnipeg and beyond competing in this year's event

St. James Burger & Chip Co. owner Ravi Ramberran with his restaurant's entry in this year's Burger Week. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Ask Ravi Ramberran about Le Burger Week and you can't miss the smile on his face, or the excitement in his voice. 

The owner of St. James Burger & Chip Co. said the fast food-style restaurant on Ness Avenue had been open less than a year when he entered the annual culinary competition, which seeks to crown Winnipeg's best burger, for the first time last year.

Looking back, he's sure happy he did.  

"Oh my goodness, it blew the doors off our place," he laughed. 

Ramberran said the roughly 600-square-foot burger joint — consisting of a kitchen, a counter and about half a dozen bar stools — wasn't terribly busy before last year's Le Burger Week. But they ended up doing the equivalent to a full month of sales during the event.

And they did it cooking up each burger on one small grill. 

"From open to close, we were just packed," he said. 

This year, his restaurant will serve up the Andy Donut Double Bacon Cheeseburger — a sandwich named for the restaurant's late chef, Andy Arjoon, and made with glazed doughnuts, two beef patties, bacon and cheese.

St. James Burger & Chip Co.'s entry, the Andy Donut Double Bacon Cheeseburger, is made with glazed doughnuts, two beef patties, cheese and bacon. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

As burger connoisseurs get ready to eat their way through another Le Burger Week — running from Sept. 1-7 — a number of restaurant owners are prepping for a big boost in business. 

"Sometimes they — I'll say 'lovingly' — curse our names … because they are so busy and servers and everybody, they just get slammed," said Daniel Gurevich, a Le Burger Week Winnipeg ambassador and co-founder of Charcoal Collaborative, the food blog which co-ordinates the Winnipeg festival.

The food competition, which originally started in Montreal but now runs in other Canadian cities, invites restaurant owners to create a signature burger. Diners can cast their vote online for the People's Choice Award for best burger. 

In Winnipeg, it's safe to say the competition has taken off.

When Charcoal Collaborative first launched the Winnipeg edition of the competition seven years ago, roughly 20 restaurants took part, Gurevich said. 

This year, 124 are vying for the title.  

Daniel Gurevich, a Le Burger Week Winnipeg ambassador and co-founder of Charcoal Collaborative, said the week-long event gives competitors a chance to get creative with their burger entries. (Alana Cole/CBC)

"People take it so seriously that they … [try] close to 30 burgers in a week, which is just insane to me," he said. "But hey … we encourage all the participation that people want to do."

There's something for everybody, Gurevich adds, including vegan options, dessert burgers and more traditional sandwiches. 

Charcoal Collaborative lists all the burgers online, and also has neighbourhood maps on Facebook and Instagram to help people find participating restaurants near them.

A new initiative this year will see $1 from every signature burger sold during Le Burger Week donated to the United Way, Gurevich said.

'Our busiest week of the year'

While he said there's no way to track how many signature burgers are sold over the course of the week in Winnipeg, it's clearly in the thousands.

He knows of one restaurant that sold 2,000 over the course of the week last year. Nuburger at The Forks sold more than 4,000. 

"It's our busiest week of the year, by far," said Marc Priestley, co-owner of Nuburger.

"Our stores are basically non-stop action from the minute we open to the minute we close every day," he said.

"Even when we hire staff, we sort of warn them — like, 'You can't book off September 1st to 7th.… That's Burger Week. We're going to need you.'"  

Nuburger co-owner Marc Priestley, third from right, with staff. From left: Carter Michaud, Ivan Valencia, Mahri Mckay, Jess Champion-Taylor, Kisis Angeconeb and Spencer Lee. (Alana Cole/CBC)

Each business pays a fee of $600 to enter into the competition. This year, Nuburger has entered three of its four locations. 

"The restaurant industry is … very competitive," said Priestley. "It's tough and it's a grind every day. So it's nice to have a week like that where you know you're going to be busy, and just kind of enjoy it for all it's worth." 

Nuburger has participated each year since Le Burger Week came to Winnipeg, Priestley said, adding they've won a few titles. Their entry this year will have a "Top Gunn" theme — a nod to a partnership with Gunn's Bakery. 

He said the high sales are a big factor in deciding to compete each year, but it's also because the competition is a lot of fun. 

"We get to showcase some creativeness and get to do some things that we can't do always on a regular basis," he added. 

Ramberran agrees Burger Week is good for business. He said he's seen a number of repeat customers following last year's event, and he has a better idea of what to expect this year — and his restaurant has now doubled its grill space.

"I'm pretty excited about it," he said. 

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