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Affordable extravagance: Zinburger wine and burger bar bills itself as 'the new American steakhouse'

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Zinburger hopes to make its mark in the better burger restaurant segment.
Zinburger hopes to make its mark in the better burger restaurant segment. - ()

If you want to distinguish yourself from all the other better burger restaurants that are popping up around New Jersey, you need to do something, well, distinctive.

Such as having your meat ground and prepped inside a climate-controlled refrigerated room or shipping in your buns every morning from Long Island because they are the only bakery in the region you've found that can meet your specifications, or spending so much on the food cost of your onion rings that you actually lose money on every sale.

And then there's the idea of serving burgers with wine.

That's the thinking of Zinburger, the hard-to-describe, let-alone-categorize wine and burger bar concept of the Livingston-based Briad Group, which will open its fourth New Jersey location this week in Parsippany.

"I think this is an incredible niche concept for us," corporate executive chef David Maini said. "This is not a hamburger concept, this is the new American steakhouse.

"This is affordable extravagance for the hard-working person who can't spend a hundred (dollars) a person in a steakhouse."

Burgers range from $9 to $11 (with Kobe beef going for a few bucks more). Glasses of wine range from $5 to $12. The more than a dozen specialty milkshakes are $6 and the specialty salads average between $5 and $10.

It's why the average check per person is just under $20 — a fact that puts Zinburger at a level above a Smashburger, Five Guys or Shake Shack, but not at the price point of a Bobby Flay's, according to Kim Gouch, the chief marketing officer for the Briad Group.

And while Gouch said the restaurant certainly attracts families, the new Parsippany location will have an emphasis on the business crowd, both at lunch and after work happy hour — but also with its 32-seat special events room.

"You certainly can have a holiday party here, but we also have the capability to do meetings and presentations," she said.

Gouch said selling the private room, which can be divided from the restaurant with a pullout partition wall, is not a top priority for the restaurant yet — but it has nonetheless already drawn interest from local businesses.

And there are plenty.

The location is within eyesight of the new GAF headquarters and short driving distance from other billion-dollar brands, such as Wyndham Worldwide, not to mention dozens of other companies in an expansive Mack-Cali office park on Route 10.

It's a park company officials feel currently is underserved by higher-end restaurants.

"We certainly have plans to take advantage of that," Gouch said.

Gouch said the company was not necessarily looking for a flagship location for Zinburger, but once it saw the property — its first free-standing location — it saw the possibilities.

The location, easily the biggest of the now 11 existing locations up and down the East Coast, comes complete with a test kitchen, which Maini said is vital to keeping the concept current.

"We have a lot of regular guests, which is great, but we need to keep the menu current and offer new items to make sure they keep coming back," he said. "We don't want to be the old steakhouse that has the same menu for decades."

Zinburger will change it up by experimenting with new burger concepts as specials. One recent special — the El Diablo, which features fire-roasted Jalapenos and Chipolte mayo — proved so popular it now is one of dozen or so burgers on a continually-changing menu.

A recent burger of the week is as Jersey as it comes: The Caprese, which features pesto aioli, lettuce, tomato and mozzarella cheese.

Maini is convinced — and says the market has shown — consumers will eagerly pay for a premium burger once they've tasted the product.

"We're growing our clientele because we don't rip off our customers," he joked. "That's probably not a good way to put it, but we give them quality, we give them value."

It starts, Maini said, with his insistence on farm-to-table quality ingredients.

"What sets us apart is our freshness and quality," he said. "It's in all the ingredients, right down to the almonds in the salad, which are Marcona almonds from Spain, or the Manchego cheese, which is more expensive than the beef we buy. And our beef is fresher than anywhere else. Then there's the cost of our buns, which is astronomical, but it's worth it.

"I think you taste that in the burger; it doesn't taste like any burger you've every had if we've done our job."

The concept appears to be working.

Briad Group officials say all 10 existing restaurants are increasing their sales — which is why the company is preparing for a large expansion.

Gouch said they are close to announcing a location in Jersey City and could add a few others within a year, potentially doubling their current Jersey locations (Clifton, Paramus and Cherry Hill already are operating).

And Gouch said they are hopeful a deal that will give them exclusive rights to the concept throughout the country (they currently have control in the east of the Mississippi) could be signed as early as first quarter of 2016.

Plenty more Zinburgers are envisioned.

Maini, who has opened eight of the restaurants, is eager to do more. He is convinced the market is there.

"In this day and age, how many people work two jobs?" he said. "This is affordable and it's a great time; you can have a great glass of wine or a great cocktail and have a night out.

"If you're a couple who only gets to go out once every couple weeks, this is it. They are going to have a great time here."

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