Elie Chamoun is a member of the restaurant family that brought us Aladdin's, Taza and a handful of other successful Cleveland chains, so when he has an opinion about the business of food, he's not often wrong.
When he and his business partners were planning to open a new restaurant in Highland Heights back in 2010, he was pushing for a burger and craft beer concept. His partners, on the other hand, advocated for something a bit fancier. Outnumbered, Chamoun and his partners opened Naya Bistro, an upscale Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eatery that lasted about a year and a half.
"Naya did well for a bit, but I wanted a place where customers could eat at once or twice a week instead of just once a month," Chamoun explains. "So I bought out my partners and went back to my original concept."
It took Chamoun all of three weeks to shut down, retool and reopen as Burgers 2 Beer, an upscale burger bistro with a lengthy list of craft beers. That was just two years ago and in the time since, Chamoun already opened a second location and has plans to open at least two more in 2014. He recently expanded by 1,500 square feet his downtown location near Cleveland State University, adding a large bar that finally would make use of the property's liquor license.
In a very crowded burger market, Chamoun says that he has managed to thrive by following a straightforward plan of attack: "I serve a high-quality product, I keep it consistent, and I offer variety."
That high-quality product is a half-pound patty of fresh, custom-blended, grass-fed Ohio beef, char-grilled over an open flame. It's a great burger, served unceremoniously in a wax paper-lined plastic basket with fresh-cut fries. That variety is on display in approximately 20 different burgers that range from plain to just plain ridiculous.
"Nobody else has the guts to say, 'I'm going to put a donut burger on the menu,'" says Chamoun.
But apparently, more than a few customers have the guts to order it. The Luther ($9.99), a half-pound burger topped with bacon and cheese and served between a sliced glazed donut, is a top seller, according to Chamoun. Other burgers are served between two grilled cheese sandwiches (Oh, Cheesus), topped with corned beef hash and eggs (Breakfast), or slathered with gooey peanut butter (Nut Butter). A Burger of the Month manages to outdo even some of the more outlandish "regular" menu items.
For those who prefer to build their own burger, a lengthy catalog of cheeses, veggies, meats and sauces are available from which to pick and choose. Tables are set with a paper towel dispenser and a collection of predictable grocery store condiments like ketchup, mustard, Tabasco and malt vinegar.
B2B also sells obscenely large, all-beef hot dogs topped with chili and cheese ($8.99), Sloppy Joes (8.99), and pineapple and coleslaw ($9.99). They're messy fork-and-knife affairs that quickly put a dent in a person's appetite.
Chamoun rounds out the entrees with quesadillas, sandwiches and wraps. Starters include wings, rings and something called Me So Corny ($5.99), crisp and corny fritters that are deep fried and served with a Mexican-spiced mayonnaise. Both those fritters and the Sloppy Joes that arrive atop the tater tots in the Sloppy Tots ($7.99) are unpleasantly sweet to our taste. And is there ever a good reason to use "nacho cheese sauce," outside a concession stand setting? (The answer in no.)
While you won't find many uncommon, obscure and rare craft beers on B2B's lengthy list, you should have little trouble finding a tasty local, regional or national craft to pair with your burger.
Given that it started life as an upscale bistro, the eastside restaurant is a bit more contemporary – albeit with new flat-screen TVs – than the everyday burger bar. Future restaurants will feature a more rustic look, says Chamoun, with steel and wood as major elements. Thanks to an aggressive timeline, it won't be very long until we see that design. Chamoun says that Lake County will welcome a B2B in the first quarter of 2014, with Cleveland Heights or University Heights getting No. 4 by the end of next year.
"I'm taking my time to pick and choose prime locations," he says.
While Chamoun's burger-and-beer concept is far from original, it seems to be winning over fans wherever it lands. And why not? The burgers are great, the beers are fresh, and the service and setting are notches above most casual restaurants. And where else can one eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in a single burger?