Battle of the Burgers

  • 2015-06-04
  • By Doireann McDermott

RIGA - Burger restaurants are on the rise across the world, and Riga is finally starting to catch up. Over the last two years, perfecting the art of burger creation seems to be on top of the agenda for local entrepreneurs.
Baltic beef lovers are starting to embrace the fast food industry. Finnish burger franchise Hesburger posted 48 eur million in sales in the Baltic countries last year, which is 7.4% more than in 2013. It opened 4 new restaurants last year in Riga alone and plans to open 7 more in Latvia over the next few years. Hesburger is the classic example of a cheap and cheerful burger on the run type of establishment, an alternative to the very first burger chain in the capital, McDonalds.

McDonalds, which was opened in 1994, is working on providing more local products. It already has 8 restaurants in the city with one of the biggest situated near Freedom Monument in Old Riga. Along with the usual McDonalds menu, ’McDonald’s Latvia’ also offers dishes for Latvian tastebuds such as the burger ‘Rye McFeast’ with rye bread. The hamburgers feature 100% beef, some burgers can even have Latvian-favoured bacon added. Riga also has its very own local fast food restaurant, Grila Burgers, which is good for students and those on a night out or suffering from a hangover, with prices starting at only 1.45 eur for a burger.

Justin Bancroft, an American lecturer at the Riga Business School shared his personal views on burgers in Riga: “If you are buying a burger in a restaurant, the quality is usually poor,” he says. “Latvians, Estontians, or Lithuanians often mix pork with beef in their burgers, or even worse, bread crumbs.”

“I’m assuming this is a cost saving move,” Bancroft continues. “However, there are quality places that only serve 100% beef. I think the local market is becoming more receptive to outside influences and the convenience of fast food.”  
“Subway was here years ago and they failed. After a 14 year haitus, they’ve come back with new franchisees,” adds Bancroft. Aptieka Pub on Miesnieku street is Mr Bancroft’s favourite place to eat a burger as it is owned by an American/Latvian, “who really knows how to cook a good burger and so does his chef!”                

Going gourmet

Gourmet burger joints are the latest addition to the market for foodies in Riga who are not in a rush and desire a more fine quality burger.  Ghetto burger was one of the only restaurants of its kind a few years ago, but now the competition is growing. Street Burgers brought a new type of hipster hangout to the burger scene, attracting young professionals, students and tourists. Street Burgers has been featured in airline magazines and has gained huge popularity for its meat, 100% from Latvian farms. The restaurant offers 15 different kinds of burgers including mini slider burgers, which are a delicious and reasonably priced snack. Street Burgers Facebook page has over 7,930 likes and is constantly posting, promoting and holding contests in order to maintain the consumers interest.

Despite its success at the beginning, a few restaurants of the franchise were closed. They were situated in prime locations such as Brivibas near the famous Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija and Audeju street 14 in Old Riga.
“We closed two of our operational places because of bad partnership and bad decisions on a growth strategy,” Street Burgers founder, Aleksanddrs Vavers, tells The Baltic Times. “Now we are back on track and opening the first burger joint outside Riga, in Jurmala. Over the next 2 years our main aim is to open 5 to 6 places in Latvia and maintain them. Meanwhile we are starting our work on the franchise pack, and after two years our main idea is to the sell franchises.”
The two restaurants remaining are located on Gertrudes Street 27 and Meza street 4a. Beef burger prices range from 5.20 eur to 6.90 eur. A meal including fries and a drink works out at approximately 10 eur.

BBurgers recently replaced Street Burgers Brivbas location. BBurgers is still in the process of building a community of followers and fans. Its website is not yet in operation but it has a Facebook and Twitter page. As part of its media campaign, it offered a 15% discount for runners in the Riga Marathon this month. Burger Corner is another new burger establishment seeking to provide good quality burgers. Located in the middle of Old Riga on Tirgonu iela 5, burger prices range from 5 eur to 6.50 eur.
Hipster vibes

Burger Story is the most recent star in the burger scene right now. Expats and locals enjoy debating over their favourite burgers and Burger Story seems to be the latest winner. Located on Gertrudes 16 and Smilsu street 14 in Old Riga, the restaurant has a similar concept to Street Burgers.

Russian owner Yuri Glotser spoke to the Baltic Times about Burger Story’s growth plans stating, “we plan to open at least six restaurants, preparing for expansion in other major cities of Latvia. We are negotiating the sale of a master franchise with stakeholder partners in Finland, Belgium, Germany and even in the “homeland” of burgers the US (Miami).”
The cheapest burger is 4.90 eur and the most expensive is the Truffle Pig at 8.90 eur with parmesan crisp, grilled tomato and truffle mayo.

All these latest burger restaurants do not only share a passion for good quality burgers, but they also create a relaxed hipster vibe and most of the restaurants serve local beers on tap.
Another new style of restaurant in Riga is City Diner. It does not specialise in burgers but what makes it unique is its classic American 50’s style offering pancakes, waffles, milkshakes and the classic American hamburger.

City Diner opened three months ago and already has almost 5,000 Facebook views. The owner of City diner said it decided to launch the restaurant as the owners saw a gap in the market. The restaurant also focuses on creating a family atmosphere with balloons and animators. All burgers are served with french fries or a coleslaw salad, prices start at 6.80 eur. It also offers a 15% discount for students, —10 percent birthday discount, and happy hour never stops as there are two for one cocktails all day, every day!