Astoria's Own Bareburger Expanding Across the East Coast
ASTORIA — In 2009, when Euripides Pelekanos decided to open Bareburger on a quiet corner in Astoria, he didn't anticipate expanding beyond that — at least not at first.
"We didn't have big plans or big intentions," said Pelekanos, 36, who was born and raised in Astoria and, before breaking into the burger business, ran a now-defunct bar and music venue in Brooklyn called Sputnik.
"Coming to Astoria was really about coming back to our hometown, where we all grew up."
It wasn't until about a month after opening that Pelekanos and his business partners — his brother and three of their friends — looked at the restaurant's packed dining room and realized they were onto something.
"A month into it, all the partners just looked at each other and said, 'I think we have something really, really awesome here,'" he remembered.
"People so much loved the idea of what we were doing, the way we were doing it, the vibe and energy."
Fast forward four years, and Bareburger has grown from that original location at 33-21 31st Ave. in Astoria to 14 restaurants across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
The company plans to add another half dozen by the end of this year, and to open another 15 to 20 restaurants in 2014 in places like Long Island, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Columbus, OH.
The locations are a mix of franchises and company joints, but all employ the same Bareburger principals — serving food made from quality, organic ingredients in eco-friendly restaurants, where tables are crafted from salvaged lumber and ceilings are made from recycled tin.
Burgers on the menu include unusual options like elk, ostrich and wild boar, and are made from organic or all-natural meats. Beef and bison patties come from grass-fed animals, and the chicken, turkey and eggs are cage free.
Pelekanos said it's their commitment to environmentally friendly food and practices that keeps customers coming back to Bareburger.
"We weren't pioneers — we didn't reinvent the wheel on organic food," he said. "But we were one of the first, especially in Queens, that served one of the closest organic menus that you could find [at the time.]"
Like Bareburger, the Queens neighborhood where the restaurant got its start has changed dramatically since 2009.
The corner of 31st Street and 23rd Avenue, home to the original location, has seen several new eateries open over the last few years, like Pachanga Patterson and new wood-fired pizza joint Milkflower.
"It's definitely become a hip scene, but I knew it was coming," Pelekanos said.
He's moved out of the neighborhood himself, and now lives in Bayside with his wife and their young son. He has another baby on the way.
These days, his job involves less day-to-day restaurant management, and he spends much of his time selecting and working with franchisees — the teams that will help take Bareburger nationwide.
"It's a large country," he joked. "There's a lot of restaurants that need to be opened."