Insider Alert! Classic Burger Joint's New Sister Venture
Last week, I sat down to lunch with two senior officers at Classic Burger Joint, Lebanon’s largest home-grown burger chain. CBJ’s Customer Care Manager Yolla had rang me a few days earlier to follow up on feedback I’d left by way of Zomato. Having built a steady rapport over the past year underscored by my rave review of the CBJ concept, we set a date for lunch at the downtown outlet. Yolla arrived with her colleague, Jana, who oversees quality assurance across the entire group.
|The Classic Cheese at CBJ|
Here is a company that lives and breathes product and service excellence. Unlike many institutions that fixate on the tangible good, neglecting consumers altogether, CBJ carefully listens to what folks have to say. From our several phone conversations, you’d think Yolla was trained in one of the customer service behemoths like Visa or Amazon—she is attentive, genuine, and extremely knowledgeable. You can sense her enthusiasm and deep-seated attachment to the company she represents, and that is a rare breed of employee in the corporate world.
Jana, too, takes her role seriously, and she elaborated on how CBJ strives to keep standards consistent at every stage of the business. A central kitchen exists from which buns, patties and fresh spuds are distributed, but perishable items like garnishes are prepared at the branch level. At its four franchise locations in Kuwait, CBJ exports everything from Lebanon so that authenticity is preserved. Even condiments are reduced to a transportable powder form and then concocted on-site with the essential liquid ingredients.
|A cross-section of the Classic Cheese with semi-grilled onions and bell peppers|
The company, named Ministry of Food SAL, was established in 2010 by the savvy restaurateur and veteran management consultant Donald Batal, who derived a wealth of experience working at Roadster and subsequently Boubess Group. He’s molded the operation to be scrupulously methodical, which helps ensure a successful, sustainable business model.
The Ministry of Food has a few other brands in its repertoire of dining outlets. Many of you are familiar with Tomatomatic, an American-style pizza delivery service. In fact, the CBJ Sodeco shop is where the pizzeria once stood before it went exclusively delivery. Just a few meters up the street, Café Diem proposes traditional galettes sarrasins and brews espressos from a unique, hand-built Veloce machine borrowing its composite metal work from a Ferrari engine.
|A fresh green salad in lieu of the coleslaw and fries|
And now for some inside scoop! You’ll never guess what Batal’s cooking up in Zaitunay Bay, nestled between Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Blu Port. By month’s end, a vast Lebanese restaurant dubbed Café Zaituna and seating 200 guests will begin dishing up countryside Lebanese fare and shisha 24/7. That’s unheard of for the seaside strip, whose restaurants and coffee shops shutter by midnight. I can really see Café Zaituna taking off, not only for its round-the-clock service but because the two neighboring Lebanese eateries are high-end and pricey.
At length, it’s ennobling to watch a local concept start from a solo gig and steadily expand to eight outlets, all the while retaining the same identity and never losing sight of its roots. The menu remains exclusively burgers, in tempo with the slogan “Hamburgers is all we do” (admittedly a bit clumsy, but perhaps that’s what makes it ring in memory). The shops are forevermore just that—quaint, simple shops—and typically seat 20-30 diners at best.
Only the customer service has evolved: it keeps getting better and better.