A Smash & Grab cheeseburger posing on the way back on February 6, 2021. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
On the last Friday evening in January, from the section of Tennyson Street between 39th and 41st Streets, guests were practically lit up.
Couples walked arm in arm to their dinner reservations, families sat outside the ice cream parlor with takeaway cups and outside a temporarily closed restaurant, The Way Back, groups of friends and singles lined up to try cheeseburgers from Smash & Grab, a new Denver popup.
As a couple who had been waiting in line approached the walk-in window, owner Eli Cox announced that these two customers would be getting the last burgers of the night. It was just after 6 p.m.
“I’d rather be sold out than throw away meat,” chef and business partner Trevor Gilham later told the Denver Post. “If we could do 150 (orders) next time it would be incredibly flattering and cool.”
Trevor Gilham (left) and Eli Cox, founders of Smash & Grab Burgers, pose at The Way Back restaurant on February 6, 2021. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
Gilham and Cox are the latest creators of a viral food trend in Denver during the pandemic. Their smash burgers follow in a number of popular single menu items – from fried chicken to dumplings to donuts – that have grabbed customer attention across social media platforms like Instagram and stole our hearts for the past 11 months.
The recipe for success is straightforward but elusive: find what you do better than everyone else, find a way to get it to the masses, and then hopefully sell it off.
“It’s hype culture,” explained Cox. “Not everyone gets the pair of Jordans they want and I think that’s more fun.”
Bored at home, attracted by pictures on social media and convinced of an easy delivery or collection, customers have no chance against the new food favorites of the internet.
When I got my hands on the penultimate Smash & Grab burger from last January pop-up, I went straight to my car and ate (maybe I shouldn’t boast about that part) my dinner from the safety of a parking lot on Tennyson Street . Enough pandemic food has taught me that a burger won’t withstand the 20-minute drive home to my dining table.
But that night it stood up to the hype.
Gilham describes his recipe for success as follows: “That greasy burger, but with nice tomatoes and goodies. You can just pick up what you don’t like. “
Shredded lettuce, grilled onions, a secret specialty sauce and relish inspired by Dick’s burgers in Seattle – Gilham made the most of his favorite fast food in the US (see also P. Terry in Austin and his hometown drive-in movie in Montrose) and he paid homage and rose up.
Trevor Gilham, left, and Eli Cox at The Way Back restaurant, February 6, 2021. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
He is also a trained chef who left the industry long ago to pursue a career in marketing with outdoor brands. Cox also worked in Denver restaurants for years, such as the original Twelve Downtown. He then opened Berkeley Supply, a menswear store that had been on Tennyson Street for nine years.
“I think we both swore at one point that we would never work in a restaurant again like never before,” says Gilham as a caveat. “But the nice thing about this situation is that we get to play in a restaurant once a month.”
So they take it all in. At three pop-up events since December, the two limit their patties to around 100 and hope for the best. Due to the low inventory, Gilham can remember how every single burger he turns over evolves (he only regrets one that he deemed imperfect at the start of the last event).
But they donate their time to these pop-ups, they cost groceries to cover the cost of good ingredients ($ 8.50 for a burger, $ 49 for a Caviar & Lays bougie), they work with a local agent to sell good natural wines and some Korean beers for a reasonable price and they all pay tips to people in the restaurant industry who are unemployed.
Gilham can cook in a lovely commercial kitchen, an opportunity he wouldn’t have dreamed of outside of the pandemic, and Cox can talk to customers and take orders off the shelf. You are having a great time.
“Every time we do it it’s a risk,” added Cox. “We write pretty decent checks to cover all (expenses). Fortunately, people continue to support it. “
When I spoke to Gilham and Cox in mid-February to early February, they were still almost a month away from their next burger sale (Friday, February 26). But I wondered if in the meantime there was a way to get photos of the action that would entice potential customers to mark their calendars for a fast food dinner for one night in nearly three weeks.
“Do you just want to do a Saturday night?” Asked Cox Gilham, designing.
“No,” said Gilham and they both laughed.
There were families to spend valuable pandemic time with, day jobs to keep, and with viral foods, you always risked giving too much to people.
“That’s almost why we do it once a month,” said Gilham, “so our friends won’t get tired of it.”
You can only find out about upcoming Smash & Grab events via the Instagram account instagram.com/smashandgrabco/.
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