Most people know Burgermeister’s as the iconic West Asheville food joint that consistently gets praised for best burgers in town. Many may not know, however, that Burgermeister’s history in Asheville is longer than you might think.
Burgermeister’s New Orleans Grill started as a small counter-service restaurant in downtown Asheville where the Noodle Shop now stands in Pack Square. Begun by the trio of Dan Watts, Smith Gaddy, and Tom Gaddy, the menu was simple. Their veggie burgers—way back in the 1990s—became a downtown favorite. Soon the idea was hatched to start selling their burger’s wholesale, so the restaurant closed and VeggieMeister’s was born. The group sold their burgers to Earth Fare, The Food Co-Op, Ingles, Harris Teeter, Sysco, and to a handful of local restaurants.
The transition from retail to wholesale was difficult, though, and thoughts went back to slinging burgers. Smith and Dan went their separate ways while Tom and wife Chantal Saunders (who met Tom at the original Burgermeister’s in the late 1990s) opened a new Burgermeister’s at 697 Haywood Road.
“We felt there was a need for a neighborhood restaurant in West Asheville,” Chantal says. “There were lots of awesome independents downtown, but not much out this way. That was about nine years ago. We love being part of this community. West Asheville has about a third of Asheville’s population. It has new families, artists, students, it’s quite a variety. We love it here.”
Chantal had some restaurant experience, too, and also had experience as an accountant. Now she does the books for Burgermeister’s as well as its marketing and anything else that needs to be done. She maintains an accounting business and has a jewelry business called Metal Splendor Designs. “I’m a night owl,” Chantal says, “so I just fit it all in when I can.” She adds that variety is good and chuckles when she says that she never gets bored.
Chantal says that Tom is the guru in the kitchen and the brains behind the menu. “Tom is a great chef,” Chantal says. “That’s his passion, and he’s made his dream thrive.”
The variety of burgers offers names such as El Diablo, Godfather, Carolina, Alpine, and Macho, among others. Chantal says the Blackened Blue and the Campfire Cowboy are probably the two most ordered. But the restaurant isn’t just about burgers. “People sometimes forget that we sell tacos, grilled cheese, soups … we have yummy chicken and tasty tofu,” Chantal says.
The restaurant’s fried pickle chips are renowned as are some of its sides such as the Meister’s wedges, kettle chips, and potato salad. Salads and sandwiches can also be found on the menu along with baskets such as chicken tacos, fish tacos, and fish-n-chips.
Chantal says that they strive to have everything good. That means they occasionally change the menu, trying new things and removing items that are less popular. The décor has changed a bit over the years but the goal is to remain a casual neighborhood eatery.
“When we first opened, we raided Tom’s man-cave basement to decorate, and that was fine to start,” Chantal says. “But after a couple years we realized we weren’t the same people anymore. We wanted a slightly more polished look.”
Burgermeister’s has a feel of fun and funky, artsy and casual. “It’s not a place for one type of person,” Chantal says. “It’s for people from all walks of life. Just as the neighborhood is diverse, we hope to serve all those types of people and they are all equally comfortable.”
Tom and Chantal try to be as green as possible, too. “We use organic ingredients and local ingredients when we can,” Chantal says. We try to recycle and reuse. For instance, our condiment holders are old records. Our oil is used to make bio-fuel. Being Earth-friendly is important to us personally so we try to bring that same ethic into the business.”
Tom and Chantal are proud of their environmental record but Chantal says she is most proud of the staff and families they have supported over the years. “We’ve had about 120 employees over the years,” she says. “A lot of those people are still good friends. We’ve made so many friendships and connections. Tom and I are privileged to be a part of so many people’s lives.”
As for substantial future plans, Chantal says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some future plans are limited by the fact that Tom and Chantal rent their space. “It would be great to have a rooftop bar on this place, but that’s not really something in our control,” she says. “We just want to stay in the moment and do what we can to stay current. Sure some products will change and some menu items will change, but we don’t have any major plans for big changes.”
Burgermeister’s is a place where Chantal and Tom enjoy just being themselves and they hope their customers feel they can be themselves, too.
Burgermeister’s is located at 697 Haywood Road in West Asheville. For more information about Burgermeister’s, call 828.225.2920, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Burgermeisters.