Last year, visiting Kuma Burgers served as something of a marker to distinguish people who are truly passionate about dining from those who just like to banter on Facebook about how much they like food. After all, if a a person couldn’t summon the motivation to check out an underground burger joint in the Greenway Plaza food court run by a former Oxheart cook, then she’s probably someone who talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk.
Owned by chef Willet Feng and his wife Diane, the unassuming spot, which is built around a custom-blended patty of 80-20 beef seared on a griddle and topped with a number of house made sauces like scallion aioli and sambal mayo, earned recognition as one of 2016’s best new restaurants from a number of local publications. Unfortunately, all that success attracted negative attention from an out-of-state restaurant that challenged the Fengs' ability to use the name “Kuma Burgers.”
After consulting with an attorney, the couple decided that, rather than spend a lot of money fighting a lawsuit, they would change the restaurant’s name. Effective immediately, the Kuma Burgers is now known as burger-chan.
“We decided to stick to Japanese. We wanted it to be similar to our current name in that respect,” Diane Feng tells CultureMap. “‘Chan’ is a Japanese honorific, it’s a suffix used for cute little children . . . (Also) if Will decided he wanted to do other concepts in the future it would be noodle-chan or steak-chan. It’s a way to have a different name but a cohesive identify.”
Diane has tasked her husband with creating a “burger-chan” signature burger that would be “cute” in some way: whether it be smaller or have colorful toppings. “To be honest, Diane kind of sprung (the idea) on me,” Feng says. “I’m still thinking about it.”
Although the name is changing, the menu will remain the same. Other than burgers, the restaurant serves hot dogs, a veggie patty made with soy-braised eggplant, and a fish sandwich made with panko-crusted cod. Classic Texas chili, hand cut french fries, and creative milkshake all have combined to help burger-chan develop its good reputation.
Feng says he’s pleased with the reaction from both the press and the restaurant’s customers but would like to find a way for the restaurant to be a little busier. He notes that it’s hard to generate a lot of revenue when the business is only open from for a few hours per day, five days per week.
The Greenway Plaza food court currently has a vacancy that would allow burger-chan to relocate to a more prominent location next to the Rice Box, but the chef declined to comment on whether the restaurant has plans to move. Other landlords have approached the couple about opening a second location, but they want to proceed cautiously.
“Some of the places we’ve looked at are possibilities,” Willet Feng says. “It just depends on a whole bunch of different factors. Obviously, everything has to line up financially and whether the opportunity is right.”