There’s definitely good food at Burger 55, but in its first four years, it’s also become a part of the community fabric.
That, said owner Chris Boehm, is something he learned from his mentors over the nearly 20 years he’s been in the restaurant business.
The latest addition to the Top 40 under 40 said he’s been having fun developing Burger 55, working with the Penticton Vees and community groups as the gourmet burger business has grown.
“Being involved with the Vees, doing Vees burgers, doing events and doing event burgers, to me it’s just about giving back to the community and staying involved in the community,” said Boehm. “I am 37 years young, but I have a family now and I want to see the community grow along with my business. I think Penticton is going to be an exciting town in the next three to five years.”
Getting to this stage was a long process, tracing back to 1996, when a 20-year-old Boehm was getting started as a bartender and bouncing around the business, including a stint with Boston Pizza, before going to culinary school when he was 26 to get his chef’s papers.
“That was a big turning point, because I wanted my own restaurant one day,” said Boehm.
Culinary school, he explained, was just part of a plan to learn everything about being a restaurateur, from the business side to the food.
“You name it, I’ve probably done it in the restaurant business,” he said.
It seems natural enough that the idea for Burger 55 came to Boehm on a road trip. Driving down to Las Vegas with a friend, Boehm said they sampled a lot of burgers along the way.
“We thought we could do something better, have a little more fun with it,” said Boehm. “I like the burger. It’s classic, it’s iconic, it’s never going to disappear on us. It’s not a fad food. You can have a lot of fun with it.”
You could say the same about the business Boehm has built on Backstreet Boulevard (formerly Westminster Avenue West) in downtown Penticton.
In just four years, the tiny building has become an icon for gourmet burger lovers, even attracting the attention of the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, which filmed an episode here in September 2012.
“That was probably one of our biggest accomplishments, being on that show,” said Boehm. “Amazing for business and amazing for the community just to be highlighted on a TV show like that.”
The little orange and white building, tucked in a curve of the road beside Penticton Creek, has become something of an icon as well, though Boehm said he laughed when a friend suggested it as a possible location.
“It was just a beat-down old building but once I started thinking about it, got the creative juices flowing, got the measuring tape out to see if we could fit everything inside, it seemed to make sense.”
Boehm thinks the building, which was built in 1949, contributed to Burger 55’s success.
“A lot of people come to see it and are surprised after they eat that we can do what we do out of this little space,” said Boehm. “It’s a cool vibe. People are standing in our kitchen when we are making food. It really worked out for us.”
Penticton turned out to be a good spot to get started in another way. Boehm said everyone has been supportive of the venture, from the customers to competing restaurants.
“Everyone is very supportive, that’s what I like about this area,” he said. “The people are supportive, everyone likes and supports local businesses.
Like most Penticton businesses, the summer months are Burger 55’s busiest times, when Boehm has eight to 10 people on staff. But there is also a following that come in regularly for their custom burger, some coming from as far away as Kamloops.
“I’ve always wanted to have a cult following,” joked Boehm. “Over the last four years, we’ve made so many different concoctions and we are coming up with new stuff every day. For me, it’s just the love of that burger.”
The road trip that inspired the concept also inspired the name. While driving through the U.S. and talking about the possibilities, Boehm kept noticing the 55 mph road signs.
“It just had a good ring to it, it just stuck, it stuck for a long time,” he said.
The Burger 55 concept might have been born on that road trip, but it was another decade before the time and place was right to build the business.
“It wasn’t in our original idea to put it here, but I fell in love with the Okanagan. I had only been in the Okanagan for about seven or eight months and I didn’t want to go back to Alberta,” said Boehm. Penticton, he added, was a great tourism town and it seemed like a good fit.
“It just seemed like a good market to try it out, and it took off. Penticton loved it, the area loves it, it was a good way to start.”
Options for the future of Burger 55 include everything from expanding into other Okanagan cities to a food truck according to Boehm.
“I don’t want to hit the big cities, I don’t think it’s necessary. I think we have proven that we’ve got a wicked product and people will enjoy it probably wherever we go,” he said.
Penticton Top 40 under 40 is presented by the Prospera Credit Union in partnership with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce and JCI Penticton, with support from White Kennedy LLP Chartered Accountants.
Nominations should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Top 40 Nomination.’ Please include nominees contact info and a brief reason for nomination.