Since opening in March 2011, Bull City Burger & Brewery has become a hit in downtown Durham, North Carolina, a line routinely extending out the door for the eatery’s built-to-order burgers crafted from pasture-raised beef and award-winning beers.
Bull City principal Seth Gross, a Culinary Institute of America alum and former professional brewer at Goose Island brewery in Chicago, discusses his one-of-a-kind concept that honors culinary craftsmanship.
How did Bull City get off the ground?
For years, I knew I wanted to do my own thing; it just took me some time to get between there and here. After Goose Island, I became a sommelier and kept beer in the background, but I needed to do something with my hands. In Durham, I met some investors, and they believed in me and in the concept, so we got going.
What makes Bull City unique?
From the bacon and the mayonnaise to the ice cream and the lemonade, we make everything in house. Ketchup is the only exception, and that’s because we use eight gallons a day and couldn’t keep up with that demand. My hands are also in every batch of beer. We’re constantly innovating and will test anything that has the potential to improve what we’re already doing. We’re now even aging Worchestershire sauce in a small oak barrel. It’s that kind of attention to detail and quality that catches people’s attention.
What are the challenges of being so hands-on?
It’s twofold. First, with a 350-square-foot kitchen, we simply don’t have enough space to do all the prep we need to do every day. We’ll do 1,000 burgers on a Friday or Saturday … so we’ve had to get creative about how we prep and find the right systems that allow us to execute while being true to who we are. Second, it’s consistency, which is the downfall of many independents. We’ve solved that by having a recipe for everything we do right down to the grams.
What are the challenges of executing a brewery concept in the quick-service space?
The biggest challenge is that there’s limited interaction to sell beers and teach people about beer. Fortunately, our educated staff is up to the challenge. We have 15 Cicerone-certified beer servers on staff, and I pay for the course if they pass the exam.
How has Bull City changed since its opening?
We intentionally started with a limited menu because we wanted quality over quantity. Then, we slowly and methodically added in new items, like chili and soft pretzels, to provide more variety, generate return visits, and increase check averages.