What started with two guys investing 400 euro each in a grill and a marquee has turned into one of Galway’s most successful restaurants, writes Barbara Collins.
There are often queues out the door for Handsome Burger on Dominick Street in the city’s West End, and now the business has expanded to Dublin. This is the fourth week it has been trading from Eatyard in the capital city and there are plans to open in other places.
“We are very much of Galway,” says co-owner Cathal O’Connor. “We really care about using fresh local produce, and that is why every burger we make is the same, hand rolled, and cooked the Handsome way. Consistency is key for all aspects of our business.”
Since Handsome began trading at Eatyard this March, they have people in the kitchen in Galway from 2am hand rolling burgers and hand cutting chips before being driven up to Dublin in a refrigerated van.
“Quality and the produce always being as it should is what the Handsome Burger brand is built on. We have seen other places start off well and then the quality goes downhill and that is emphatically what we don’t want to happen with Handsome Burger,” says Cathal.
Over a locally-produced All About Kombucha drink, Cathal told me how he has a degree in Sport and Exercise Science and would have done further studies in nutrition. He went to the local school The Bish with his business partner Rory McCormack.
“Rory is so passionate about food, having worked at a number of establishments throughout Ireland, but really it all started at home for him in his mother Sue's kitchen, where he learnt the value of good produce and with it you can create simply the best food. This was the kitchen where Handsome Burger was subsequently formed.”
“We started off with a street food truck at Moycullen Market before moving into Caribou on Woodquay in the city. We were delighted when these premises in the West End came up because that is where the best food in Galway is.”
The logo is a clever take on the classic Galway Claddagh ring. Instead of two hands clasping a heart they are holding a burger. All the staff wears Claddagh rings too. The décor is industrial with booths, tables and high stools. The menu is short, just five burgers, which include one chicken and one vegetarian. There is also a daily special and sides of slaw, fries and sauces. There is a drinks licence which means wine and beer are served alongside soft drinks. As yet, there is nothing sweet, but there are plans for a milkshake.
I wondered if all of the customers were hipsters, but Cathal says “there is no such thing as a typical customer. We get everyone from elderly couples to teenagers on their first date. A lot of business is repeat because people know the ingredients are top quality from local suppliers like Herterich’s and that the preparation, cooking and service are consistent.”
I had a Petey Pablo - a beef patty made with mince from Brady’s Butchers in Athenry. The addition of chorizo, cheese, guacamole and tomatoes on a brioche bun made it possibly one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. The additional fries were made from Rooster potatoes and finished with a dusting of salt and rosemary - very moreish. The waiter James told me the slaw had chilli, ginger and honey in the vinegar dressing. Decked out in American Apparel, he seemed as knowledgeable and passionate about the business as co-owner Cathal.
Future plans include a bigger kitchen in Galway so they are able to open in more cities across Ireland.
“We never want our standards to drop, so it makes sense to continue with Galway as our main base, working closely with our suppliers and continuing to prepare everything by hand.”