Years ago, for a famous chef to serve burgers, fries and—gasp—shakes, would’ve been nothing short of a career killer.
But today, elite kitchen kings are launching their own fast food joints (not coincidentally, the most profitable of dining sectors) quicker than you can say “Quarter Pounder.” Often opening to great fanfare, these once-exclusive chefs are using their talents, along with top ingredients, to create inexpensive comfort fare for the masses.
Chef Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack continues to be the standard bearer of this movement. A New York-born burger-and-fries chain, its consistently long lines—a phenomenon many think is intentional to help garner buzz—are as well known as its founder. The Big Apple also boasts Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace and Tom Colicchio’s ’wichcraft, the Top Chef judge’s ode to sandwiches.
Pizza is the latest lowbrow staple to attract culinary blue bloods. Pizzeria Locale—run by Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson of Frasca fame—has spawned a partnership with Chipotle to open a pizza place in Denver that promises pies in less than two minutes.
Likewise, Bradford Kent, best known for his creations at Olio Pizzeria & Café in Los Angeles, started Blaze Pizza in Pasadena, California, creating customizable pies. A raging success, Blaze chains are popping up across the country.
“We use many of the same ingredients that I did when I was a personal chef for Hollywood celebrities, folks who’ve eaten in the finest restaurants in the world,” he says. “I just prefer the more inclusive nature of this.”
Franklin Becker, the New York chef who worked at the likes of Abe & Arthur’s and Brasserie, opened health-conscious The Little Beet last year, with fresh-pressed juices, egg sandwiches and chicken bowls.
“Fast [food] was a genre considered inferior by most chefs,” he says. “But I saw a market that was underserved and needed the same love and attention paid to fine and hip dining establishments. That’s why there’s a line out the door at lunch every day.”