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  • Writer's pictureJustin Prince

Burgers are back, in popular demand as fast-food sales drop

Updated: May 3, 2018

By Justin Prince

At least once a month for the past two years, Gene Petrusekno and his family have been coming to one of Windsor’s more well-known burger restaurants on Erie Street. Petrusekno, who is with his wife and two young daughters for their monthly gathering, is finishing his meal as the restaurant becomes packed for another yet Friday night dinner rush. Some are families, others are business clients meeting in the back corner dressed in grey suits, sitting among the neon-lit cows and chalk-drawn cars on the walls in the automotive-themed burger place, which, back in 2009, was an Italian restaurant.

“Do you need a menu?” asks one server to a group of people coming in from the snowstorm starting outside.

“Nah, we’ve been here before,” they said back. There is a community feel while eating at the restaurant Petrusekno would later say.

Inside the menu are more than 10 different types of burgers to match the theme of the restaurant, named after different cars and trucks. Pinto, Firebird, F-1.

As people bite into their juicy, well-cooked burgers at Motor Burger, which will celebrate its fifth-year anniversary this December and is celebrating being named one of the Top 10 burger restaurants in Ontario by Thrillist on Nov. 15, there’s one thing that comes to mind.

Burgers are back.

As consumers turn towards higher-quality food and burgers, fast-food chains such as McDonald’s have seen their sales numbers decline. Last August, the burger chain saw its sales decrease by 3.7 per cent worldwide, their biggest drop in sales since Feb. 2003 according to The Wall Street Journal. On Oct. 21, the company posted a 3.3 per cent decrease.

“It’s totally in another league (fast-food burgers),” said Petrusekno. “I mean you can taste the sirloin and it’s not as greasy … There’s no comparison. You’d almost feel nauseated after eating fast food.”

And other homemade burger places are noticing this trend. On Oct. 31, Simon’s Prime Hamburgers opened its second location in Windsor. Simon’s, which had its other location in Downtown Windsor for the past few years, opened on the same site where a Red Barn Burgers restaurant used to be in the 1970s before the brand folded in 1986. Mamo Burger Bar, which had first opened on Ottawa Street a few years ago, also opened a second location Nov. 26 in Tecumseh, Ont. Both the restaurants’ new locations have been busy ever since.

But expanding and changing restaurant focuses doesn’t come without risks. When Motor Burger co-owners Jay Souilliere and Gino Gesuale changed the restaurant theme and name from NOI, a high-end Italian restaurant which had been open for eight years prior to the change, a lot of people wondered why they made the switch.

“A lot of people questioned when we changed,” said Souilliere, the lead chef for the restaurant. “A lot of people questioned how or why we would succeed in doing it on an Italian street. Our response was, ‘We can’t keep a good plate of food down, right? It doesn’t matter where you’re located, people are going to come.’”

And people came. On top of being named one of the best burger places in the province, Motor Burger has been recognized by Reader’s Digest and the Food Network as one of the top burger restaurants in Canada. Souilliere said they were now “arguably one of the busiest restaurants on Erie Street.”

“I think people, if given the opportunity, can know the difference between good quality and not so good quality,” said Souilliere. “I think we’ve proven our point with going for the high-end of it where it is top-quality and people appreciate it.”

As Petrusekno and his family finish eating their burgers, served on wooden pallets rather than in paper bags and on plastic trays, the reader has to wonder how long people will come to restaurants such as Motor Burger and Simon’s Prime Hamburgers before moving on to the next craze or restaurant in town.

But for now, as the rock and roll music plays in the Erie Street restaurant, burgers are back and as strong as ever.

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