One of Houston’s best burgers will be a little easier to obtain in 2020. Diane and Willet Feng, owners of burger-chan in Greenway Plaza, have reached an agreement with local developer Braun Enterprises to open a second location of their popular restaurant in the Galleria area at 5353 West Alabama St.
Plans for the restaurant’s design are currently being finalized; the couple expects the new restaurant to open in the first quarter of 2020.
Open since 2016, burger-chan has earned a cult-like following about local burger hounds. Credit goes to chef Willet, a former Oxheart sous chef who brings a fine dining ethos to the restaurant’s housemade sauces — everything from barbecue and guacamole to sambal mayo and scallion aioli. Made with high-quality beef from 44 Farms (or a veggie patty), the burgers are seared on a griddle to give them crispy edges and lots of Maillard reaction char. An umami-heavy glaze gives the burgers a distinctive flavor that's help the restaurant earn wide acclaim, including a CultureMap Tastemaker Award nomination for favorite burger, even though the Greenway Plaza location means the restaurant is only open for lunch Monday through Friday (no evenings or weekends).
Non-burger options include hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and fish sandwiches. Hand-cut french fries, taro root chips, and milkshakes round out the menu.
Originally, the couple planned to open a Singaporean restaurant — rather than a second location — that would trade on the knowledge Willet gained during a two-year stint working in the city-state. But it wasn’t meant to be.
“We were this close to signing the old Dream Tacos space. We ultimately pulled out of that deal,” Diane says. “When that fell through, we weren’t actively pursuing anything, but when people approached us, we’d take a look. Then we got an email from [Braun leasing director Zach Wolf].”
Growing beyond the Greenway Plaza food court comes with significant advantages. Specifically, the new burger-chan will be open for dinner and serve beer, among other upgrades. The couple evaluated a number of possible options for their second location but ultimately liked the ways in which their choice builds on what they’ve created so far.
“It felt like a half step forward and not a full leap,” Willet says. “It’s not a stand alone. It’s inside a retail strip. It has some office buildings above it, so you have some built-in clientele. Yet, it’s a restaurant; you have a dining room, restrooms. It’s street level-facing, so people can find you. The more we thought about it, the more it felt like a good in-between step.”
Burgers will remain at the heart of the menu, but the new restaurant’s larger footprint means more room for additional equipment (a grill, a range, etc) that will allow Feng to add a wider array of dishes. That’s especially true at dinner when customers might want something more substantial than a burger and fries.
“I love steaks. Steaks will definitely be there,” the chef says. “I think it’s a good excuse to do more things that require knife work. I can get whole chickens, whole fish. I love raw fish preparations. Maybe for happy hour, some kind of crudo or ceviche.”
Landing burger-chan is just one of the improvements Braun has plans for the property (full disclosure: CultureMap and its parent company Gow Media also office in the building), which will be rebranded 53West. In addition to both interior and exterior cosmetic improvements, the company plans to add more retail tenants that will make it a more appealing office space. In an email, Wolf expresses particular enthusiasm for burger-chan.
“We had always been big fans of burger-chan and when we met Diane and Willet, there was no way we were going to let them lease anywhere else,” he writes. He adds that the developer will have more new tenants to announce soon.