P.E.I. restaurants beefing up ahead of annual Burger Love contest
Some eateries are playing catch up because of COVID-19
The annual battle for the "Island's best burger" title begins soon as Burger Love gears up to take place at a different time of year.
April is usually the month Islanders and tourists alike roam the province sampling gigantic burger creations — but like almost everything else, COVID-19 caused delays. The new start date is Sept. 1.
The concept is the same: Participating restaurants create a burger dish and serve it to the judges — aka their hungry patrons. But how the burgers will be offered is changing this year.
Nimrods' is planning to put together a drive-thru in Stratford, inside the former Kentucky Fried Chicken location, instead of using its floating pizza bar in Charlottetown Harbour.
"We're really lucky because a lot of the equipment was still functional," said Mikey Wasnidge, co-owner of Nimrods'.
He said because the kitchen was in good shape, he should be able to turn the location into a Burger Love drive-thru before the end of the month.
"Most of our work has been cleaning," he said. "We're on schedule so far, but it is certainly an ambitious task."
Change of plans
Wasnidge said the plan is to call the location Nimrods': Burger Blitz 2020. He said while he does want a year-round location to supplement the floating one, the old KFC location will be used only for Burger Love.
Originally the plan was to take over a curling club in Charlottetown where the restaurant typically preps its food, Wasnidge said.
"The model we had planned wasn't going to work quite the way we wanted it to," he said.
Wasnidge said COVID-19 precautions will be in place with physical distancing and sanitization for a small sit-down area at the former fried chicken franchise site, and the drive-thru will help those who may still be uncomfortable getting out in public.
"If people are just wanting to stay in their car and they want to just have a low-contact experience, then they can just come through the drive-thru," he said, adding the challenge will be to provide gourmet food quickly.
Hoping for tourism burger dollars
Another restaurant is hoping to bring the burgers to various Island communities.
Quentin Gillis owns Holy Cow Burgers and Wings restaurant in Morell, but he also owns a food truck called Holy Cow 2.0 and plans to deliver portable patties to patrons.
"We've done it for the past four years," he said, adding that it will be easier for the truck to travel in September.
"We do a week in Prince County, a week in Kings and typically a week in Queens," he said — and with the contest running six weeks this year instead of four, he is hoping to hit more communities.
He said it is hard to say how well the restaurant will do, but he hopes having Burger Love in September instead of April will work to its advantage.
"There's a large shoulder season that we do see every year with tourism," he said. "I think people still have a lot of vacation to use up and P.E.I. in the fall is a great time to visit… I think we will see some tourism dollars."
Phinley's Diner and Dairy Bar produced Burger Love 2019's most loved burger, but owner Craig Lawlor is having trouble getting cooks this year.
"It's that big of a deal right now, we might even have to close a couple days this week because of it," he told CBC News on Monday, before announcing on social media that the diner would indeed be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 18 and 19, to give its cooks a much-needed break.
"We are hoping to get enough cooks here to get us rolling once September 1st hits," he said. "It is not the best situation to deal with."
Lawlor said he has always had issues getting cooks. He said a lot of cooks live in the Charlottetown area and sometimes don't have their own transportation — and transit schedules don't line up with work schedules.
"Right now, we are going through more of a difficult time," he said. Burger Love is 10 days away and it is "a huge concern."
Aside from needing more cooks, the restaurant is as ready as it can be for Burger Love. He said pandemic precautions are already in place, such as added sanitation and taking people's contact information when they dine in for possible contact tracing.
If all goes well, Lawlor plans to sell burgers from the dairy bar attached to the restaurant as well.