WHAT’S IN A BURGER? That’s what the owners of Grassburger, Ed and Jessie Kileen, kept asking themselves. The American tradition is beef, of course. But what ABOUT the beef? Where did the animal come from? How was it treated? What did it eat? Did that cattle nourish the land? Was that cattle raised with the principals of nature?
The answers they found in our fast-food burger places and most American burger restaurants were not what they had hoped! So, they decided to create a burger place of their own! One that sourced only 100% grass-fed, USA raised cattle, one where they saw the cattle grazing as nature intended and living a happy, contented life.
That was just the beginning of the journey! Their vision also included cleaner, minimally processed food, whole food ingredients and no corn syrup. Phew! It was harder than it sounded. But almost 10 years after their first Grassburger opened in Durango, Colorado, they now have four locations and a loyal customer base!
As any restauranteur can tell you, it was not an easy journey from there to where they are today! And to make matters more complicated, prior to Grassburger, owners Ed and Jessie Kileen had very little knowledge of how to build a restaurant. Ed was a developer/real estate professional and Jessie was a former art historian now stay-at-home mom! Jessie, who has a passion for nutrition, had a dream of running a grass-fed cattle ranch. Ed, who grew up in the farmland of the Midwest, knew agriculture was a tough business. He felt clear about not wanting to be working 24/7 as a ranch would require. “The joke was on us though,” says Jess. “We didn’t realize that opening a restaurant required us 24/7 and then some!”
After their first Grassburger gained momentum in Durango, they quickly decided to open one in Albuquerque. They had always loved the city and felt it would be a good market for their concept. The NE Heights location opened in March 2016 and a second location on the NW side in March 2019.
To get their grass-fed beef, Grassburger has partnered with the Mobley Family/Springerhill Ranch. The Mobleys started as grass-fed cattle ranchers in Texas and then grew to become consolidators of 100% grass-fed beef for the region. They helped Jess and Ed source their cattle from a New Mexico ranch who follows the principles that they were seeking. In turn, the animals are processed at a family-owned plant near Amarillo, Texas that has a commitment to low-stress livestock handling. These aspects of the values chain are important to the Kileens and their customers.
“People are concerned about where food is from and how it’s raised,” says Jess. “Most burger restaurants can’t tell you that information. We can and feel that is an importance piece of what we offer.” Another example of that is their GMO free, Wheat Montana bun – traceable, simple ingredients with an excellent taste profile.
Ed and Jessie are also very interested in the grazing principles behind grass-fed beef, particularly regenerative agricultural practices. They feel Grassburger should support the efforts and work of ranchers who are responsible stewards of the land. They believe that HMI and the education and marketing they offer, is one of the key components of healthy grazing systems.
They attended the HMI’s grazing seminar taught by Kirk Gadzia at the JE Canyon Ranch in Colorado the winter of 2019. They “wanted to better understand what challenges the producers had to deal with in raising quality grass-fed beef,” said Ed. “If we are going to scale this restaurant concept then we need to understand that part of the value chain,” he added.
“That seminar helped us understand just how challenging it is to raise (grassfed) beef in the arid Southwest. We’ve been really lucky to partner with the Mobley family/Springerhill Ranch who does the aggregation for us. We’ve also been lucky to find a New Mexico source that raises cattle which are 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. As we scale we may end up using beef from Colorado and Texas as well.”
Ed continued, “The HMI seminar also helped us understand what the ranchers face with growing grass, taking care of the land and creating a profitable ranch. The intricacies of that work really came to light for us as well as the amount of time it takes to get the animal to market in a place like the Southwest versus someplace like Missouri. The seminar also helped us understand how logical a regenerative process like holistic planned grazing is and the need to going back to working with nature.”
“We understand that there was a positive intent originally for GMO efforts to make plants insect resistant and those sorts of traits, but ultimately if the pursuit of profit outweighs the values behind the product then things go wrong and spiral out of control. We learned about how genetics can make a difference to support regenerative grazing. That’s the kind of adaptation that can create a positive outcome. We need to focus on natural systems not just profit systems. And yes, there is still a lot of need for education for producers, food suppliers and consumers. That effort toward advocacy is part of our mission.
For Grassburger, success is the ability to fulfill our larger mission of having a market so that any rancher who wanted to be paid for regenerative practices had a premium market for their cattle. The more we can invest in creating demand for this type of product, the more cost effective we can make the model, then the more ranchers can get into this market and make a profit!
We have to find the right price point where we can support these sustainable practices and pay our staff a living wage. We aren’t trying to compete with the gourmet burgers with their 100% Angus or 100% “natural” claims that sidestep the fact that they are selling CAFO raised beef. We have a unique proposition that we stand behind and our customers are supporting.”
Grassburger’s mission is changing the iconic American burger to better the health of people, animals and our planet by supporting 100% USA grass-fed beef and regenerative ranching practices. The vision of focusing on the whole supply chain of grass-fed meat that can be scaled and provide a premium market for grass-fed ranchers is what helps Grassburger accomplish their mission and help to change the world one burger at a time.
To learn more about Grassburger visit their website at: https://www.grassburger.com
Thanks to Grassburger for being an HMI Partner!