EatDrinkJax.com interviews Korey Konopasek, Chef/Owner of Epik Burger.
30. What attracted to you to having your own place?
When you're working for a company everything is strategic and you have to think about your particular customers who are attracted to your particular company and you need to stay true to them and the product you're putting out. If you're doing your own restaurant you can take a chance and do what you like. When you do what you like and other people appreciate it that's going to be more fulfilling. Hopefully it will be successful for me as well.
31. What made you decide on a burger restaurant?
Financially, I had to start small. The possibility of me opening a steak house wasn't there, I don't have that sort of money. I wanted to start something that wasn't a trend that might disappear in a few years. Americans have been eating hamburgers for a long time and they'll keep doing so for a long time. I felt like it was a pretty safe type of restaurant and was something I could do on a smaller scale. All of that plus I like hamburgers, and that helps too.
32. How did you get your recipes?
I sat at home and wrote a menu. I added things and tried to cross things out. Then I tested each burger and tweaked it. We had to open up in a pretty big hurry so some items had to be tweaked some more after we opened. I'm really happy with the menu at this point. I'll probably add 3 or 4 more burgers. I'm trying not to go to more than 40 but I have a hard time stopping myself.
33. Will you continually rotate your burgers or are you trying to get to a set menu?
I already did one menu revision. I've pulled 2 burgers off the menu that I wasn't happy with. One tuna burger just didn't have enough flavor for me. I also had a Chicken Caesar Salad burger that I thought would be really popular, but it wasn't. As far as adding new things, that's just me because I enjoy trying new things and coming up with new ideas. As I think of more things I'll probably try them as specials and if they do well I'll add them to the menu.
34. Have there been any big surprises opening Epik Burger?
Construction! Over budget and over time. There are things that caused a lot of challenges for opening and had an impact on how I had to open. Money I'd planned for some things had to get diverted to construction. There are a lot of things in construction that I learned, let's just say that. At this point we have been able to catch up but it made opening up harder than it should have been. If we open another restaurant some day there are definitely some things in that area that I'd do differently.
35. Once open were there any big challenges?
Like a lot of new restaurants I think the first few weeks were the biggest challenge. We had an all new staff that needed to be trained and brought up to speed on the menu. While that training was going on we were still tweaking some operational items that are part of any start up. Other than that, I've been in the restaurant industry long enough to know that there are challenges that will always be there and aren't really a surprise. They're just things you learn to deal with.
36. Are you from Jacksonville originally?
Yes, I grew up in Jacksonville.
37. Where do you like to eat when you're not at Epik Burger?
We try to go to different places. I particularly like to eat at restaurants where there's a chef owner. You can tell when there's a chef owner because there's always a menu item or two they put on there because it's what they like to eat and they don't really care if anyone likes it or not. That's how I felt about the Hawaiian Local Burger. I really wanted to have it on the menu because I thought it was cool and I didn't care if anyone else appreciated it. Those are the kinds of restaurants I like to eat at - I can always spot them.
38. Did you ever consider a food truck?
I did think about it and I looked into it. You don't pay rent and there's a lot of overhead that's different. But you still need a home base for a food truck. And I've never operated a food truck and don't know a ton about them. I have a friend who owns a food truck in Denver. He parks all over town. In a lot of cities you just feed the parking meter and start serving. But Jacksonville is a little more structured. I wanted to do something that I was confident wasn't a trend. That scared me off somewhat with the idea of a food truck. That and my lack of experience with food trucks. I can see a truck being an option some day if I was trying to grow to handle special events and things like that. For my first place I wasn't comfortable with them and there were too many unknowns for me.
39. What's next for Epik Burger? Will you be adding breakfast?
Not now. I've added milkshakes. My next step is to add beer and wine. The next step after that will be to find a way to open on Sundays. That's my progression at this point.
40. Is there a timeframe to add beer and wine?
I've finished my paperwork. Now I need to get a zoning exemption, which sounds like it should go through pretty easily. The liquor license itself is also straightforward. I don't think it will take too long.
41. Will you have any particular focus on the types of beer or wine you'll serve?
I've already written out a pairing menu to provide a specific beer and wine that goes with everything on the menu. It's something I'm excited about because it gives customers an idea to try that they may not have tried before, which is what I like to do. When I was creating the wine pairings I found that champagne was pairing with quite a few of the burgers. I thought that was really interesting. How often would you go out and order a burger with a glass of champagne? Probably not very often, or ever.
42. Will you offer champagne paired with burgers?
Yes, I'd like to.
43. What sorts of beers will you feature?
Many places feature beers that just go well with a burger. I tried to match the beer to the toppings on the burger. For the Korean BBQ Burger, which is a little spicier, I paired that with a pilsener beer. The Epikurean Burger is being paired with a Lambic beer or champagne. Both go well with the foie gras. I have a lot more ideas like those and am excited for when we'll be able to start adding beer and wine to the menu.
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About the writer
EatDrinkJax.com interviews are conducted by Jacksonville Beach resident Gerry Glynn. When Gerry isn't talking with restauranteurs he is working for a local software company, training for his next road race, and hanging out with his wife and dog.