2004 Grill’d rethinks the hamburger chain

Veggie Burger - 2016. Image from Grill'd. Do we see beetroot?

The hamburger has been around in Australia since the 1930s. The traditional “one with the lot” was cooked to order in cafés and take-away food shops all over the country until, in the early 1970s, the first giant (and foreign) hamburger chain arrived. McDonald’s and their competitor, Hungry Jack’s, changed the burger scene in Australia forever. But these slick burger chains were missing a certain something. Alcohol.

Well, not just alcohol. There wasn’t much of an individually-cooked vibe about the Big Mac and it certainly didn’t come with beetroot.  So you had to choose. Hamburger chain convenience or corner store tradition. It took until 2004 for an Aussie to launch a different kind of hamburger chain – one that offered more choice, a better restaurant experience and the chance to have a glass of something alcoholic with your burger.

That year, Simon Crowe opened the first Grill’d in Hawthorn, Melbourne. It claimed to offer “healthy burgers” with all-natural ingredients and no artificial additives. Not content with one restaurant, Crowe went on to franchise the Grill’d model, expanding throughout Australia. The first drive-thru Grill’d opened in Brisbane in July 2023  – the 165th location for the hamburger chain.

Since then, many others have followed, usually started by entrepreneurial souls in a single location, then expanded via franchises. The timeline of Aussie burger chains goes like this:

2007Burger Urge  started as a small local restaurant founded by two brothers in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. They claim they’re “Taking burgers back. Back to a time when food wasn’t fast and burgers weren’t made of processed plastic.” They currently (2023) have 27 locations – one in Victoria and the rest in Queensland and New South Wales.

2011Huxtaburger claims to have started Melbourne’s burger craze (didn’t they hear about Grill’d?) Beginning in ultra-cool Smith Street, Fitzroy, these guys like to give their burgers names – like Kevin, Denise, Donna and Pamela. Alcoholic offerings are limited to beer.  Still small by hamburger chain standards, in 2023 they have four locations in Melbourne, two in Perth and one in Sydney.

2012 –  Ze Pickle is currently (2023) a Queensland-only chain (it seems their Surry Hills, Sydney, outlet may be defunct). It started as the first dedicated craft beer bar on the Gold Coast and has since opened in Brisbane and even Brisbane Airport. Aside from the airport location, it seems Ze Pickle goes for the full experience, featuring cocktails, music and many craft beers on tap to wash down its bar snacks and burgers.  Currently 5 locations.

2012Mr Burger started life as a food truck in Melbourne and now has five locations – two restaurants in Hobart, one in the Melbourne CBD and two food trucks in Melbourne’s trendy inner north.  Mostly it’s not a dine-in experience. And there’s no booze. On the plus side, one of the offerings – The Lot – definitely has beetroot.

2014Betty’s Burgers describes itself as an Australian burger shack. Outlets strive to create something of the beach vibe that was established in Noosa in 2014. Since then, Betty’s has rapidly expanded. It is now owned by the same people who run Boost Juice and had 54 restaurants around Australia as of February 2023.

2016Carls Jr is an American hamburger chain, introduced to Australia at Bateau Bay on the New South Wales Central Coast. Founded in the USA in 1941, it now has over 3,800 restaurants worldwide. So far (April 2023), it has 46 locations in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales.  Do we need another American burger chain? At least one local reviewer didn’t think so. No alcohol.

2016Milky Lane  As befits its Bondi origins, Milky Lane has a bit of a party vibe. It spruiks its burgers, desserts, drinks and cocktails as well as DJs keeping the beat going until late. Iced VoVo cocktail anyone? There are eight locations in New South Wales and Queensland.

2017Burger Road was founded in Fairfield, Melbourne, by husband and wife  Anna Dewan and Ishu Wadhawan, offering a menu of “fresh and fun” burgers. Of the ten locations around Melbourne, two are completely Halal. Alcohol is sold in selected stores only.

2019 –  Pattysmiths was launched in Melbourne and now (2023) has 34 locations across every state and territory except Tasmania and the Northern Territory. The ACT franchise is certified Halal. The big deal with this chain is that the meat patties are hand-crafted and “hand pressed” onto the grill. Hmm. Reviews are mixed.

There are probably many other local hamburger chains I haven’t included here, not to mention the single stores that continue to turn out made-to-order burgers. And, of course, every pub and roadhouse menu is likely to include at least one hamburger option. Even high-end restaurants can do you a gourmet burger. It’s an American invention that’s taken over the world and, from the success of so many chains, it seems we Aussies just can’t get enough.

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