The challenges posed by COVID-19 have presented the restaurant industry with unprecedented challenges, and that includes Houston's best burger purveyor. Burger-chan owners Diane and Willet Feng have closed their original location in Greenway Plaza's The Hub food court.
In an announcement posted to Instagram, the husband-and-wife duo thank their staff, customers, and Greenway Plaza operator Parkway for all of their support of the concept. "This is not the end. But we do need to reset and transition to a different model in order to survive," the couple wrote in their note.
A follow-up post on the burger-chan website offers a further explanation on burger-chan's future. Thankfully, plans to open a second location in 53West, Braun Enterprise's office building at 5353 West Alabama are still on track. Originally scheduled to open this fall, the restaurant will make its debut in early 2021.
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 even though the Greenway Plaza location meant the restaurant was only open for lunch Monday through Friday (no evenings or weekends).
As for the decision to close, the Fengs cited the lack of tenants in Greenway Plaza's office buildings. They claim sales are down 80 percent compared to before the pandemic, but other factors contributed to the decision, too, as they explain in an emotional passage.
"There were days when someone asked how our day was, and we couldn’t fully answer without tearing up," they write. "There were days when so many things went wrong and so much felt out of our control that we just felt like we were drowning. There were days when our daughter needed our presence and our attention, but we were so spent we had nothing left to give."
Between now and the Galleria-area location's opening, burger-chan could host the occasional pop-up. In addition, Willet Feng will be available for private chef gigs, while Diane will focus on assisting the couple's daughter with kindergarten.
Burger-chan's closure comes three months after Bernie's Burger Bus served its last detention burger. Like burger-chan, Bernie's cited a decline in sales during the pandemic as the major factor in its closure.
"Burger-chan’s success at Greenway Plaza has helped to elevate The Hub to a destination lunch spot and one-of-a-kind campus offering populated by a number of unique, homegrown small businesses," Parkway program manager Kateri Foley said in response to CultureMap's request for comment. "They’ll be greatly missed. We wish them the best in their future endeavors and hope that we’ll be able to work with them again one day in the future."