My father, David, and I were very close,” begins Alan Bubbus, Founder of David’s Burgers. “It’s been a real journey.”
You might have noticed the Arkansas-based chain of burger joints that Alan started proudly bears the name of his father, and it’s no coincidence. As our conversation makes clear, family comes first – but right behind it comes high-quality burgers served up with a smile.
So the story goes, Alan’s father was always close to the restaurant business. For years, he either operated or helped other members of the Bubbus clan operate food establishments. “He’d always be on hand to help out,” recalls Alan. “In fact, he was so family-oriented that sometimes it was at his own expense.”
David and his nephew eventually opened their own place. It was called CJ’s Burgers. People loved it, and though he was certainly a fan, Alan could only watch it grow from the sidelines.
“I was busy working as an internal bank appraiser,” he recalls. “But then, not too long after CJ’s opened, I found a restaurant for sale. I remember it well. It stood out to me because it had been vacant for five years, just sitting there, which struck me as unusual.
“Of course, I began to think about what it could become. You see, although I wasn’t part of the restaurant trade at the time, I was learning an awful lot about business through the corporate world. I knew how to make deals, how to talk to people, and how to instill values across an organization.
“I saw the success burger joints were having in my family, so I took the plunge and made an offer,” he remembers. “That’s where it all began! Looking back now, I must give a lot of credit to my wife. If she didn’t say, ‘Go for it,’ because of everything I had on at the time with work and school, then we might not be talking now.
“But she gave me her complete support, and from then on, I knew it was going to work. When a husband brings his wife an idea, and she gives it the green light, he can’t fail.
“With her blessing, it was like she pushed me out of the phonebooth, tied a cape round my shoulders, and turned me into Superman! Having a spouse believe in you is the real motivator.”
Suddenly, a 29-year-old Alan was the owner of an empty restaurant. He had no choice but to get to work. By pooling savings, loans, and credit, the first David’s Burgers successfully opened its doors in 2010, and, as was always the case, Alan’s father was by his side to help make it happen.
“I’m very grateful for my father,” reflects Alan. “For starters, he’s one of the main reasons behind the success of the company. When we were starting out, he’d often say, ‘Remember, Alan, always do the little things right.’
“Most people didn’t get it, but I knew exactly what he meant. He was reminding me not to get cocky or lose my sense of what’s right, and to never assume that I was going to be successful. After all, the restaurant business has perhaps the highest percentage of failure. So, you always need to do the little things right first. Then you can get after it.”
Now with ten locations, there’s surely no question as to whether David’s Burgers has continued to do the little things right. More recently, though, Alan’s been looking at the big picture.
“We’re increasingly making sure that the animals from which we source our meat are treated well,” he explains. “First off, that means only working with farmers that raise their cattle like their own children. By working with smaller producers, it means we can ensure first-hand that our supply chain is more sustainable.”
But that’s not all David’s Burgers is doing to create a beautiful bite. It’s also dry ageing its beef, which, as Alan points out, is very uncommon.
“Not many joints will do this,” he notes. “But we do it because it allows the blood enough time to drain from the carcass naturally, which will ultimately offer a better flavor as it’s just marinating in its own juices.”
People will likely always eat meat, but it’s important that those eating it are chowing down on ethical and sustainable proteins. “We don’t want to rely on corporate America,” Alan concludes. “Rather, we’re going to continue establishing real relationships with farmers that really care about their cattle.”
Over the last three years, David’s Burgers has doubled in size, but it’s these details that are still on Alan’s mind. It just goes to show that his father’s words sunk in. Always do the little things right.