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The 30-Day Burger Bar Pandemic Challenge

Chef-restaurateur David Myers originally won renown for his Los Angeles restaurant Comme Ҫa, which among other things offered a legendary high-end burger. Myers later departed to open up a range of new venues internationally. But when the pandemic lockdown marooned him in LA, he embarked on a 30-day sprint to open Adrift Burger Bar in November 2020.

I was traveling through March 17. I had just flown back from Singapore. I had a meeting in Vegas and was planning to leave two days later to fly back to Dubai when the world shut down. Dubai closed, Asia closed, everything just shut down.

We went through our own lockdown in California. Everybody was just staying at home. For the first two weeks, it was Netflix, a glass of wine, and relax. I was trying to think, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen? How are we going to navigate this? What’s the world going to look like when this is over?” All the questions you just don’t know the answers to.

After two week I was like, “Enough is enough. I’ve got to get some goals going here and figure this out, because it looks like there’s no end in sight.” So I put together three really significant goals that were important for me. One was to get in the best shape of my life—to be the most fit I’ve ever been, the strongest I’ve ever been, the leanest I’ve ever been. I dropped about 30 pounds. I didn’t need to drop 30 pounds. I wasn’t looking at myself and saying I was overweight. I didn’t even know I had that much to drop. But I hired a great trainer out of London, and I’ve been working with him, perfect diet, everything. I’ve never been this fit.

The second goal was to learn Japanese—to read, write, and speak fluently. I’m well on my way, although I have a long way to go. I was hoping I’d have it down in three months and be pretty solid, but it’s taken a lot longer, although I can read now a bit, like at the grade-school level, which is good. If you’re learning Japanese, you can only go so far through just learning how to speak it. If you don’t know how to read and write, that’s your limit.

My third goal was launching a new business. I originally had an idea to do a bento concept that had been in our plans for a while. But also, back when we got a little bit of notoriety over our burger after launching our restaurant in Tokyo, I thought, “Gosh, I should really do something more focused just on a burger. I should open a burger bar.” I worked up a few ideas around it, but we got super busy with our other restaurants.

As the pandemic situation evolved, it became clear that the burger bar was the way to go. Bring the burger back. It’s the right food for the right time. A burger makes people happy, it’s reasonably priced, and it puts smiles on people’s faces.

Before the pandemic, I had no intention of doing anything in the States. Our focus has been entirely international—key cosmopolitan markets globally. I couldn’t travel anywhere, I couldn’t get to any of our existing restaurants, our upcoming projects had been put on hold, so all I had left to do was something locally. The timing worked, so we jumped on it.

There were a few people that I knew, just absolute talents, that were not doing anything. All projects had stopped. So I said, “Listen, I’ve got a crazy idea. We want to launch a burger bar. We want to do it in 30 days. We just found a location. We think it’s pretty great for it. Would you guys be open to helping?” Everyone jumped on board. They were okay with the time frame. They love the idea of a burger concept. We’re going in and doing something which normally takes nine months, and we did it in 30 days.

David Myers at Adrift Burger Bar. Photo: Josh Telles.

We wanted to take over a place that would have everything we needed in the kitchen to do the job, so all we had to do was reskin it. But we didn’t want to just put our name on the door. We really wanted to make this place Adrift Burger Bar, from A to Z. But we didn’t want to invest in a new kitchen. We were doing this on a shoestring budget. The priorities were a great location, good foot traffic, no significant commitments on a lease, and an operating kitchen.

It came down to questions like, is this model something that can continue? Will the sales support it? Is it something that people like? Do they get it? And is it replicable? It’s a burger bar. Our menu is really simple—three burgers, a vegetarian option, and three fries. It has to be executed perfectly, otherwise it won’t work. The timing has got to be down, and you’ve got to be in locations with enough density to support it. If this thing did work, it would be a perfect proof of concept for other cuisines as well.

All that said, this is not that different from my other places. What I do is restaurants. This is a restaurant. It just happens to be on a smaller scale—fast-casual versus high-end. It’s a different market segment, different marketing tactics. But at the end of the day, it’s still a restaurant. It’s still the core of what we do. It happens to be in Los Angeles—my hometown—versus Tokyo or London or Dubai or Singapore. Culturally, we get the market here in a different way than we do on the international stage.

We’re absolutely taking Adrift on the road. This is going international, for sure. It’s been such a fun process. We’re going to run with other ideas as well. We can’t wait to get back to our original game. We love to open up restaurants, and around the globe and under our brand we’ve got 15 concepts worked up and ready to be developed.

When the pandemic first hit, everyone was thinking we were going to come out of this in a totally different place, and nothing would ever be the same. And that’s true. I think we are going to come out of this in a very different place, and it certainly will be a new experience for all of us. But I also think that restaurants are going to come back. People are going to want to go out and dine. People are sick of eating at home and doing takeout constantly.

I remember early on that lot of think tanks were doing all of these studies. I’ve seen a few that circulated about what the future restaurant looked like. Everything was geared around how to protect yourself and how to separate from other people and all that. I think with a vaccine, it’s just going to go back to the way that it was, though the vigilance on sanitation and cleanliness is still going to be on everyone’s mind for quite some time.

And we’ll always wonder—what’s the next thing coming around the corner? Is there going to be another pandemic? But restaurants are going to continue. People are going to want to dine. Travel will pick back up again. I know that in countries like Dubai, for example, it’s almost like the pandemic is over. People are dining out. They’re still wearing masks when they go to and from a restaurant, but places are packed and people are having fun. It looks like it did pre-pandemic.

I believe people are going to follow in that same vein once it starts to open up. But it’s going to be a very long, hard road to get there. It’ll be a great opportunity to work with government and business leaders to find a way to make our business a bit more sustainable.