After much anticipation, Better Burger Co. finally opened its doors for business on Sept. 11.
The fast-food restaurant is the second burger joint to come to Thayer Street, following Johnny Rockets, which opened in 2000.
Better Burger Co. aims to combine quality ingredients and low prices, said George Panagos, the store's manager. "If you look at our product list, it's all the best we could use, without any compromises for the taste."
All meat served is free of hormones, antibiotics and gluten, he said.
He added that the company is environmentally conscious. "All our paperwork is biodegradable and compostable," he said.
Plans to open the Better Burger Co. go back several years, Panagos said. "This (storefront) is two stores made in one — we got the first one and then had to wait 15 months for the other to empty out," he added. The managers were only able to start working on the restaurant after the second store was vacated, Panagos said.
Construction "didn't really start" until January of this year, when the wall dividing the two stores was torn down, Panagos said.
He said the restaurant was ready to open during the summer, but managers chose to wait until the fall for business reasons. "Since we lost a season in June we decided to open in September — summers are pretty slow usually," he said.
The interior of the restaurant is decorated by a series of murals portraying landmarks of College Hill and Providence's East Side.
Andreas Mitrelis, owner of the restaurant, is not new to the business. He opened his first burger restaurant in 1962, he said, and already owns other Thayer Street establishments, such as Spats and Andreas, a Greek restaurant.
Like Panagos, Mitrelis stressed the quality of the product served at Better Burger Co. "Everybody gets Black Angus, but ours is certified," he said. "We fry our french fries in olive oil — it costs an extra seven cents to make, but it's worth it," he added.
The bustle of Thayer Street is not something to be ignored, Panagos said. "Thayer Street is very competitive, it isn't like 20 years ago." But he said he believes the Better Burger Co. fits a previously-unoccupied niche in the neighborhood. "This has to be the most unique fast food restaurant in Rhode Island, maybe in New England," he said.
Better Burger Co. and Johnny Rockets are the only two restaurants on Thayer Street known for their burgers. But Jason Sugerman, owner of Johnny Rockets, is not afraid of competition. "If there is more than one pizza place on Thayer, there can be more than one burger place," he said.
Johnny Rockets is a family-owned franchise established in 1986 by Sugerman's father. "People know who we are, I think we're doing well and will continue to do well," Sugerman said. He also remarked that Johnny Rockets has more than burgers to offer. "Everybody loves our milkshakes," he said.
Though the Thayer Street location is the first to carry the Better Burger Co. name, managers already have long-term plans to expand in New England, even in sub-optimal economic times. "We think that this is recession-proof — because of the prices. We don't target the high-end restaurant crowd," Panagos said, adding that Massachusetts is their next "target."
For now, though, the main source of business for the restaurant is college students, Panagos said. "There will be student promotions very soon," he added.
Students who have already started frequenting the new restaurant have had mostly positive experiences.
"The food was good," said Max Lewin '12. "The prices were reasonable, definitely not out of line for Thayer Street."
But Nareg Aslanian '11 said he was disappointed by his meal. "It was highly priced and I made a better burger at home," he said. Aslanian said he enjoyed the interior, which "was nice — a good atmosphere."