Last year was a rough year for chicken wings. Just ask David Boyd, owner of D'Bo's Wings n' More.
"In 2012, the cost of the wing industry was absurd," he says. "It hurt our profit margin so much, we started looking for other items to drive traffic to D'Bo's."
According to a Washington Post article earlier this year, droughts in 2012 bumped up the price of chicken feed, causing farmers to reduce their flock sizes and focus on raising larger chickens. But while larger chickens might yield more breast and leg meat, even a fat chicken only comes with two wings. And since fewer wings mean higher prices, D'Bo's began to feel the squeeze. Chains like KFC have suddenly started pushing boneless wings, and Boyd has done so as well. But he also set his sights on another trend altogether: the gourmet burger.
"We noticed the better burger business was really growing," Boyd says. "We figured, let's drive traffic and create a better burger concept in Memphis."
That concept was launched earlier this year under the name The Checkered Cow. Boyd's better burger business is housed inside the four existing D'Bo's Wings n' More locations, much as a combination Taco Bell/KFC operates, he explains. Customers order from the D'Bo's menu for wings and select from the Checkered Cow menu for the local version of what Boyd calls "the pricing and free topping offerings of Five Guys but the quality and variety of Red Robin."
There are about 30 options to choose from on the menu, most of them around $6 or $7, including some rather loosely defined "burgers," such as the Fisherman's Burger, a grilled or fried fish filet, and the Yella Fella, which is actually a grilled cheese sandwich. The more traditionally defined burgers come with your choice of an all-beef Black Angus patty or a turkey patty and are decked with any number of topping combinations: drizzled with barbecue sauce, as with the Memphis Burger; stuffed with cheese, as in the Oozey Burger; or soaked in Tabasco and layered with jalapeno peppers, as in the Firecracker Burger. You'll even find one, the Elvis Is N the Building Burger, topped with peanut butter and bacon, which Boyd swears up and down is a combination that works. And if the signature burgers don't catch your fancy, you can build your own. Choose from 12 free toppings, including cheese and bacon, or add a fried egg for $1.50.
The Checkered Cow will stay under the roof of existing D'Bo's locations until Boyd builds brand recognition, something he's working on with a line of humorous commercials written, directed, and produced by friends of Boyd's late son, David Boyd II. You won't see the commercials on television just yet, but they are currently available on YouTube (CheckeredCowBurgers), where a new one is revealed each week.
The Checkered Cow, www.thecheckeredcowburgers.com
SideStreet Burgers in Olive Branch is the definition of a one-man operation, run on convection ovens, crockpots, and the ingenuity of chef Jonathan Mah. Since 2012, Mah has been cranking out burgers, oven-roasted potatoes, and an array of daily specials from his small, two-room building tucked away off the town's main square.
The pared-down menu is exactly as Mah intended. After years in the restaurant business — as a young boy working for his father Galvin, who owns a country buffet just up the road, and, most recently, as a sous chef at Alchemy in Cooper-Young — Mah has recognized the advantage of starting small.
"Burgers are easy for me to do, because I don't have a Vent-A-Hood, so everything's baked," he says. "With burgers you can be creative. You can have so many different styles that taste different."
The key to Mah's operation is the daily prep work, including valuable par-cooking that makes the assembly process much quicker when a crowd of hungry lunch-goers arrives. From the counter where you place your order, you can see his fridge stacked with containers of fresh ingredients and marinated meats prepared for the day. This comes in handy when Mah is putting together a daily special like the Chinese BBQ Pork sandwich, topped with thinly sliced cucumber and cilantro and served on crusty French bread. As for desserts, the Irish Car Bomb bread pudding is not to be missed: Perfectly crispy on top and warm and soft in the middle, the self-contained treat comes surrounded by a caramelized praline and whiskey sauce.
Prices are extremely reasonable at $2 for a quarter-pound burger and $4 for a half-pound beef or turkey burger. Many of the add-ons, such as tzatziki and other house-made sauces, are free at the dress-it-yourself toppings bar, though cheese and bacon will run you an extra buck or so. And speaking of bucks, this joint is cash only, so when you drive down Tuesday through Saturday, anytime from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., or on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., be sure to hit the ATM on the way.
SideStreet Burgers, 9199 Highway 178, Olive Branch, MS (865) 384-6623 sidestreetburgers.com