Meet Justin Turner, The Chef Building A Houston Burger Empire

“You gotta feed the masses to eat with the classes.” That’s a favourite saying of Justin Turner of Bernie’s Burger Bus and he considers it helpful culinary and financial advice given to him by his first restaurant mentor, chef Miles McMath (at the moment of Junior’s Home Cooking in Mississippi). It’s the explanation Turner, with years of high-quality dining expertise and outlaw kitchen tales, chose to begin his culinary empire with a schoolbus-turned-burger-truck as a substitute of an upscale restaurant.

A number of fortuitous strokes of fate introduced Turner to the Bayou Metropolis, where he’s grown Bernie’s Burger Bus into four restaurants and is planning extra. From coming up within the enterprise amongst swashbucklers and ex-cons on work launch, to working as a private chef for star athletes, then profitable a competitors on Food Network’s “Chopped” with no formal training, Turner has lived a life value telling.

“I determined my first idea was going to be something I might scale; one thing that may feed a lot of people,” says the jovial, tattoo-lined chef from the bustling dining room of his newly opened Bernie’s Burger Bus in Missouri Metropolis. The fast expansion has made Turner – or reasonably “Bernie,” as he’s often mistakenly referred to as – a household name among Houston space burger lovers.

The Chicago native came to Houston by the use of Memphis because of a collection of unlikely connections. For 9 years, he was the personal chef of NBA basketball star Shane Battier. Regardless of having no background in well being-acutely aware, athlete-applicable cooking, Turner impressed the Memphis Grizzly while working at a French-inspired concept referred to as Cafe Society. Years later, when Battier was traded to the Rockets, Turner adopted searching for culinary opportunities within the Houston market. That was when he had the burger bus thought.

“This was alleged to be a facet mission,” admits Turner, who began Bernie’s Burger Bus with the intention of operating during Battier’s away recreation highway trips and downtime. As a substitute, the business took off seemingly overnight: a life-changing second the chef-proprietor credit to Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook. Cook’s “Burger Friday” column and subsequent evaluation of Bernie’s took the truck from promoting round a hundred burgers a weekend to selling out daily.

“I bought out that first day after the article, went again to Lizard’s Pub on 2nd Avenue, sold on the market. Woke up the next day at 4:30 to grind meat and make ketchup and mustard.” Turner maintains that the eye generated by that first overview “changed my life.” Since then, Bernie’s Burger Bus has landed on nearly each local “best of” burger checklist. Trying back, the brand’s growth into brick and mortar stores now seems inevitable.

During Turner’s interview at the Missouri City location, at that point open for less than a week, at 5 p.m. on a Monday the drive-by means of line wrapped around the building. By 6 p.m., the line at the register stretched to the front door. Saying that Missouri Metropolis residents shortly embraced the new burger joint is an understatement.

Turner is fast to credit others for his success but undoubtedly much of that’s owed to his application of high quality dining standards to considered one of the most common of American meals: burgers and fries. With freshly floor beef, housemade condiments and gourmet components like burgundy mushrooms and gradual-roasted garlic tomatoes, Bernie’s burgers are the stuff of steakhouse menus, not quick food home windows. It’s the dichotomy of quality and setting that took a food truck to a multi-retailer chain in lower than 10 years.

Still, it hasn’t been all roses and back-patting for Turner since placing burger gold with Bernie’s. Last year, a Department of Labor investigation turned up almost $63,000 in unpaid overtime wages to 50 workers across the company’s three brick and mortar areas – wages the corporate has since paid. The chef chalks up the error to his inexperience as a enterprise proprietor. “I attribute much of my early success to being great within the kitchen, however I was not a businessman. Our company grew fast and that i wasn’t prepared for it,” says Turner.

He provides that anybody seeking to personal or open a restaurant would do nicely to learn all the rules and laws laid out by the Division of Labor, or better yet, “bring on a enterprise guide, associate or mentor who has background expertise in that area.”

Regardless of that monetary mistake, enterprise is booming for Bernie’s, and the accolades keep rolling in. Following the opening of the Missouri Metropolis location, CultureMap Houston named Bernie’s their favorite Houston burger on the 2019 Tastemaker Awards.

Houstonians gravitate to Turner’s quirky, schoolyard-themed burgers and sides. The newest instance is the Instagram-ready behemoth off his limited-time “Field Trip” menu: the Flaming Sizzling Cheeto Mac & Cheese Burger. Two “buns” manufactured from Scorching Cheeto-crusted fried mac & cheese bookend a tower of beef patties, fried onions, cheese and housemade fire sauce. It’s a monster of a sandwich that’s as intestine-bustingly scrumptious because it looks.

For now, Turner’s objectives are still the identical: growing the model, opening more locations and expanding on his burger menu with extra creativity and more inspiration. In fact, there may be an “after” in thoughts, and it has nothing to do with burgers.

“This is my stepping stone to recreating what I used to do at Shane’s home,” he says, referring to his time as a private chef. Finally, Turner needs to open an intimate restaurant with less than 20 seats. It would be American food however with omakase-style service. Turner would serve every diner personally whereas walking them through the inventive course of that resulted in the dishes earlier than them.

“20 seats max,” he says, “It is intimate. You’re walking into a home. You get to satisfy the individuals you’re dining with, and also you don’t know what the f**k you’re going to have”.

It’s an bold concept, one more in line with his distinctive set of skills than flipping burgers. But Houston foodies shouldn’t get too excited just but. It’s a plan the 40-yr old chef hopes to retire on, after passing on Bernie’s Burger Bus to his younger son.