Edible Houston's 2016 Local Hero Bernie's Burger Bus Has You Covered
Local Heroes have you covered this summer!
BERNIE’S BURGER BUS
Local Hero Award winner: Food Truck
When Justin Turner, chef/owner of Bernie’s Burger Bus, rolled into the food truck industry six years ago, he was torn between adapting three mobile cuisines: hot dogs, hamburgers or pizza. Lucky for us, he went with a Texas classic.
Over the course of an evening, the chef scribbled out his creative, school-themed ideas for the would-be truck on fresh legal pad. “I initially thought it would be this part-time hobby that I took on, but I was totally naive about the business,” he admits. “I really had to hit the ground running and work my tail off every day.”
With his school-bus-turned-food-truck and savory seasoned grill, Turner embraced a menu of juicy beef burgers and a commitment to scratch-made fixings. After Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook featured the yellow bus in 2011, carnivorous Houstonians began surrounding it daily, and that's when Turner knew he was on to something spectacular.
"I could kiss her on the lips every time I see her," he jokes. "She really set things in motion for us."
At Bernie’s brick-and-mortar locations, diners devour local purveyor provisions like Katz Coffee’s aromatic caffeine, Slow Dough Bread Co.’s fresh-baked buns, Houston Dairymaid's delectable cheeses, Fat Cat Creamery’s unconventional ice creams and a bundle of libations from places like Karbach Brewing Co. and 8th Wonder Brewery.
Embracing an equal mix of certified black Angus choice brisket and chuck, Turner's eight-person kitchen crew arrives as early as 5am to launch the daily prep—constructing 13 housemade sauces, slicing every solitary Burbank or Russet Norkotah potato and grinding the bright red meat. And there's no such thing as Heinz in the Bernie’s kitchen; the fast-working team concocts nearly 175 gallons of their own ketchup every week.
“Preparing everything in-house is a principle I set up for myself in the very beginning,” he says. “I never like to turn into a car salesman and defend my prices, but whenever it’s brought up I remind people that we don’t cut corners here. We’re in the kitchen making everything from scratch and sourcing the best ingredients possible, and that doesn’t come cheap.”
Today, Turner has transitioned his fanfare bus into a multi-location restaurant (Katy, Bellaire and a soon-to-open Heights locations), and while the burgers are arguably the best in town, Turner is quick iterate that adding future locations is only possible if he is able to honor all the Bernie tenets.
"It's been a long, crazy run, but I will only continue the growth process if I’m able to respect every aspect of what made us popular in the first place,” he says. “I never want to be the guy who can’t be in the kitchen doing my best work because I’m too worried about running a business.”