Phil’s Sliders proves good things come in small packages. The 44-seat eatery in downtown Berkeley, California, features a $2.75 local, grass-fed beef slider alongside other mini-sandwich creations, including fried chicken, portobello mushroom, and vegetarian sliders. Founded in 2011 by foodservice pro Hugh Groman, Phil’s has also earned a loyal following for its scratch-made, square potato tots, and social media praise for its hand-crafted ice cream and homemade beverages, including cream soda and honey mint lemonade.
A Bay Area native who named Phil’s after his restaurateur father—an occasional helper at the eatery who sports a custom-made “I Am Phil” T-shirt—Groman discusses the inspiration for his adventurous concept, the slider’s appeal, and his constant push to innovate.
What inspired Phil’s?
I previously owned a café in New York, but have had a catering company in the Bay Area for 13 years. I wanted to take what I learned from those experiences and do something easier, better, and more profitable. I was particularly inspired by places like In-N-Out Burger and Starbucks, both of which have a limited menu, but do what they do very, very well. I had sliders on my [Hugh Groman Catering] menu and thought those would be a good basis for a simple, casual restaurant, especially if I could do them better than anyone else.
Why’s the slider an appealing offering?
Sliders give you the chance to have variety. You can get an assortment of different sliders … all in one meal and you can eat as much or as little as you’d like.
What are the challenges of bringing an artisanal mindset to the quick-service format?
Without question, pricing and profit. Many people have the mindset that quick-service food should be inexpensive, but if you do the food at a quality level, then you have to charge more. It’s been a work in progress to strike the right balance here, and the real trick, we’ve learned, is to minimize waste and consistently drill down on the numbers to make sure food costs are where they need to be.
What role does innovation play at Phil’s?
Testing new products is so important because we have a lot of regulars and we need to keep them interested. At the same time, we need to be streamlined and efficient to reach the profitability we need.
Right now, we’re in the testing phase of a mini-corndog with gluten-free batter, and we have special sliders—some created by our employees—like the Sweet Georgia Brown, a beef slider topped with sweet potato fries and maple bacon aioli. … We’re not afraid to push limits.