Later this summer, Boston-based burger, salad, and smoothie franchise b.good will open its first international location at 100 Front St. E. (at Jarvis, across from the St. Lawrence Market). Using local, small-scale suppliers like Greg’s Ice Cream and Silverstein’s Bakery, the burger joint is aiming to change the image most people have of quick-service restaurants. We spoke with b.good Canada president Todd Brooks about the evolution of fast food, going local, and the sustainability of his restaurant’s methods.
So why Toronto?
What we really love about Toronto is that you have a customer base that’s in tune with local sourcing and farm-to-table, and have an appreciation for great food. When you look at markets we could expand to, the density of Toronto is comparable to New York. As far as the readiness of the consumer, no one else on the east coast is as ready as Toronto. It just seems that locally sourced products have mattered longer in Ontario—whether it’s produce, beef, or even ice cream.
How did you find your suppliers?
It’s just about talking to people in the hospitality business. For instance, we had a contact in Toronto who happened to know Greg [of Greg's Ice Cream]. We got in touch and we were really impressed with the premium product he’s been making for 30-plus years. Silverstein’s obviously has a history of excellent baking. Someone in Toronto put us in contact with Ruth Klahsen [of Monforte Dairy]. We asked her who she really respects when it comes to Ontario cheddar and that’s how we got in touch with Bright (Cheese & Butter). As a rule, we asked people who they’d turn to, rather than just guess ourselves.
With all these locations having different suppliers, how do you ensure consistency?
When we put our supply chain together for the Toronto market, we worked with chef Tony, who is one of the co-founders. He’s tasted all the products to ensure consistency with what he uses in the recipes. Two Goudas we use can have different smoke profiles, but as long as it tastes good, that’s all we care about. We don’t need a cookie-cutter approach to make everything taste identical. If that was the case, I think you’d start wondering about where the ingredients were sourced.
If the Toronto location takes off and you open another one, can the small-scale suppliers keep up with demand?
You can’t keep your head in the sand when it comes to how production can scale with you. While we’ve found a great group of local suppliers, we’re projecting our growth and looking to have six units open in the GTA by the end of next year. So we need to look at these suppliers and anticipate production needs. Ideally, we’ll find new suppliers that we can vet and be comfortable with, that still have the same local profile we identify with.
It seems like more fast-food places are going for models similar to this and Chipotle, trying to change people’s image of fast food.
Our menu is broader than burgers and fries. We have salads and a great kale and quinoa bowl that we rolled out in the last six months. The fast-food part isn’t the automation, but it’s more fast casual like a Chipotle, where your order is cooked in front of you in five to seven minutes. That’s more of our definition of a fast-food restaurant.
If you get closer to what restaurants here do, which is work more with whole products, you just get better-tasting food that’s also better for you. If you’re trying to put the best product out for the consumer, then this is the way to go.—Karon Liu
In July, a b.good food truck will be roaming the city’s streets with free samples.