No other burger chain can trace its existence back to one of Vail, Colo.’s top dining and event destinations. However, Larkburger isn’t like most burger chains. Created as a spinoff of its namesake burger made at Vail’s Larkspur Restaurant, Larkburger originated in 2005 and has grown by combining the best of fine dining and fast food.
“We come from a fine dining, culinary-driven world that focuses on service and hospitality,” says Adam Baker, co-founder and president.
Baker is partnered with Thomas Salamunovich, Larkburger’s co-founder and chef. In addition to Larkspur, Salamunovich has helmed many of the Vail Valley’s finest restaurants. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, his experience includes studying under renowned chefs Jeremiah Towers and Wolfgang Puck in California and working in three-star French restaurants in Lyon and Paris.
Today, Larkburger has nine locations, all in Colorado and corporate-owned. The company works hard to maintain consistency from location to location by building a culinary culture that is embedded in its operations.
“We do a lot of training and have a director of culinary operations who oversees the quality of food and how it is handled and prepared,” Baker says. “Most companies our size generally don’t have someone like that. We also have area managers who have grown up with the company and each are responsible for a handful of restaurants. We don’t have too many layers, but the layers we have keep everything cohesive.”
In Larkburger’s kitchens, the company employs standard operating procedures that govern how everything on the menu is made. The company uses all-natural ingredients with no preservatives or additives. Sauces and dressings are made in-house, and hand-cut fries are cooked in trans-fat-free canola oil. Burgers are made using all-natural Black Angus Beef, which Larkburger believes offers the best flavor and consistency.
“We make sure everything is done the right way, and we source all-natural and high-quality ingredients,” Baker says. “We don’t buy anything processed.”
As for the menu, Larkburger keeps it simple. Rather than overcomplicating it with numerous items and flavor profiles, Larkburger has a relatively small menu. It offers regular and small sizes of the Certified Angus Beef Larkburger, as well as a truffle-infused beef burger. Beyond that, the company has portabella mushroom, chicken, turkey and tuna burgers along with a few salad, side and beverage offerings.
“All we’ve added since we’ve opened are the chicken and tuna burgers,” Baker says. “We did that because there was a hole in menu, and now we have poultry, beef, vegetarian and fish choices. The evolution of the menu now is focused on how we cook and what ingredients we use. Any changes we make to the menu will be subtle and designed to improve on what we are already doing.”
The Big Picture
Although the dining experience and quality of the food are what ultimately define Larkburger, the company has put a great deal of thought into other aspects of operations. Its locations were designed so they wouldn’t be seen as the focal point of Larkburger. Instead, the design strives to be the canvas on which customers can enjoy the food.
Larkburger locations use a mid-century design that is clean and sophisticated but not overdone. Each restaurant is built using reclaimed Monterrey cyprus wood paneling and features ample use of stainless steel.
The natural approach extends to its environmental practices. All containers are biodegradable, commercial equipment is energy-efficient, and the company reuses canola oil to power cars.
Larkburger envisions a path that is full of controlled, steady growth. Its most recent addition to the family opened in October in Littleton, and three more locations will open in other parts of Colorado between November and February. Although Baker says franchising the concept isn’t in the cards, moving outside of Colorado is likely.
“Our demographic is wide,” he says. “We appeal to all age groups, so we will look for high-traffic areas that have strong population density and a high percentage of disposable income.”
Ultimately, Larkburger’s culinary roots and connection to fine dining means it appeals to people who enjoy high-quality food and are mindful of what they eat.
“We want our people to be proud to work here and be interested in what we’re doing while we are providing them with opportunities to grow as we grow,” Baker says. “We will stay true to our roots and our culinary focus, remembering what is most important. For us, that includes the guest experience, our culture of hospitality and the quality of the food we serve. We spend a lot of time thinking about those things and working with our menu to be sure we are serving the best food possible.”