ESCONDIDO — After more than 15 years of working in the technology industry, San Diego resident Derek Loranger decided to make a change — a change to an industry where he has quickly seen success.
Loranger, and wife, Hoa, are the owners of Burger Bench in downtown Escondido. The restaurant, which opened less than four months ago, already sees hundreds of customers a day. On a recent weekend in April, Loranger saw the most customers yet: 1,200. The restaurant also enjoys five-star reviews on websites like Yelp.
So, what’s driving customers to Burger Bench? It could be the ability to get a high-end burger for just a few dollars. The restaurant offers burgers such as the Chorizo Diablo, a burger with a spicy chorizo patty topped with chipotle aioli, cheddar and jalapenos or the Sunrise, a burger filled with bacon, eggs, cheddar and tater tots. Or, it could be the 20 beers and four wines, all from local vendors, served on tap.
Of course, the journey to food industry success wasn’t a short or easy one.
Loranger, 44, said he and his wife explored the idea of opening a restaurant for years. They pondered the idea of a restaurant specializing in burgers after living in Santa Barbara County. He said the two often visited The Spot, a 100-year-old burger shack in the city of Carpinteria.
“We went there a couple of times a week,” Loranger said. “It was such a cool experience to be there and have a great burger.”
After moving to San Diego and getting laid-off in April 2014, Loranger purchased the Escondido building that now houses Burger Bench.
“We both love burgers, people love burgers so we decided to just open a burger place,” Loranger said. “Initially, we thought we would have a small burger shack but when we got the building, we thought we could do a lot more.”
The couple developed their own recipes by frequently cooking at home and trying out new dishes, and visiting other restaurants. The Lorangers later hired Chef Ferdinand Vitale to join the restaurant.
“We didn’t have any experience in the food industry,” Loranger said. “We read a lot of books, did a lot of ground research and asked a lot of questions.”
Loranger, who co-owns the restaurant with his in-laws, Hanh Duong and Mark Dinh, said they settled on Escondido because of the incentives and fee waivers from the city, and the community.
“I spent a lot of time here talking to people and the more I was here the more we realized this was the place to go,” Loranger said. “It’s a great neighborhood where everyone knows each other. We have people come in and say, “Thank you for taking a chance in Escondido.”
Nearly four months after opening their doors, Loranger said about 35 percent of customers are returning ones with the number quickly growing.
“The reception has been great,” Loranger said. “People love that there’s a burger place here. There aren’t any other non-chain burger places around here.”
Despite the rapid success, Loranger said they already have more plans for Burger Bench.
“We have more ideas on how we want to grow but we haven’t decided when we’ll roll them out,” Loranger said. “We want to stay open later, serve breakfast, have food trucks to support the local breweries and expand in other locations. What you learn in the tech industry is, is to start out very small and grow from there by learning what customers want and like.”
So, what would Loranger recommend as your first meal at Burger Bench? The Bench Burger, Chorizo Diablo or the truffle parmesan tots, he said.
This story has been corrected since its original posting.
Hoa Quach has 15 years of experience in journalism, garnering multiple awards ranging from investigative reporting to feature writing. She’s been named a “Woman Who Means Business” by the San Diego Business Journal, featured in BuzzFeed during International Women’s Day and recognized by the California Legislature for her work. You can reach her at email@example.com.