A family of four walked through the door, haggard disappearing into happy, and Kory Wollins was already on them like white on rice. “Hey, how’s it going? Is this your first time here?” he asked as they looked a bit overwhelmed as they tried to figure out their orders. It turns out they were there from Texas and visiting family in Norwalk for a wake, so they stopped at Burgers, Shakes & Fries, hearing about their reputation. We know they like it big in Texas, so Kory broke down the menu for them. They got their order in and Kory (owner of BSF Greenwich and co-owner of the Darien spot) kept talking to them about Texas, Connecticut, and just life in general. When they got their burgers, the buttered-toast hamburgers didn’t last too long, quickly being devoured by the hungry Texans.
This was just 10 minutes of one day (while even more people came in to order during this time), of one week, of one year at BSF, but to that family, Kory made a difference. On that day, Kory met with Dan and they talked about burgers, the restaurant biz, blogs, his quest to conquer making Fior di Latte mozzarella, and waxing philosophical about life. During previous conversations they talked a lot about how blog culture tends to bury the good restaurants that have been around in a while in favor of the newest and hottest spots. There was one comment that stood out from our most recent conversation that we want to start with: “In the end the most important question to ask is, ‘Did you walk out with a smile when you left?'” We always smile when we leave, especially when we have the smell of burgers and fries wafting from our bag as we speed our grub home. So, let’s dig in and grill Kory for a bit…hey, he’s not the only one who can grill.
On the start of Burgers, Shakes & Fries in Greenwich
At the time, Shake Shack was just a rising star. People were really catching on to the fact that, “Hey, I like burgers and I want to find the best one.” It was also the birth of popular blogs like Chowhound. People were so opinionated about my burgers and food that the comments were constantly being deleted. Either way, people kept coming in and wanted a taste of what we were doing.
The interesting thing about a hamburger is that people are always making comparisons. The cheese isn’t as good on this one, this burger isn’t as juicy, this one isn’t as good as the last one. So, it was heart wrenching to see people making invalid comparisons between my burgers and some other burgers. Can you really compare a $30 foie gras burger with a $6 burger with basic toppings? Let’s level the playing field and make an equal comparison. Take my patty and other people’s patties and put them side by side with the same toppings, then compare them. The thing is that taste is a subjective thing, so it’s tough to say something’s the best. What it comes down to is that it’s not just a burger, it’s my rent, my happiness, and taking care of my kids.
The problem is that at BSF I have just 10 minutes to impress you from the time you walk in to the time you walk out. This makes me a perfectionist, but I do it on a different level. I labor over each dish, taste, look, and flavor. I go back and forth constantly, checking ingredients, laboring towards perfection.
On the next evolution of BSF
Burgers, Shakes & Fries could evolve as a chain somewhere between Darien and Greenwich, but has to make sense atmospherically and fiscally. It’s always easy to evolve when you’re going to do an Italian, Polish, or Japanese cuisine, but, how many ways can you change a burger spot? Call it LeBurger, Shakes & Fries? It’s still a burger place!
On making Fior di Latte mozzarella
We went to Washington where my wife’s cousin is the largest supplier of artisan mozzarella in DC….he loved what he did and I envied him because he wasn’t signing death warrants on cows. When I decided I wanted to make my own mozzarella, I had to find an amazing milk source. Finding the raw milk was incredibly difficult because it doesn’t exactly match up with buffalo in terms of fat content. I searched and searched, but then I found it…a farmer without a farm.
I also started researching people making curd on the artisan level. I started mixing things up and I found a few people who were doing things right. But, at the end of the day, the cultured sample had a much lower pH level than I wanted. So, it has to have 4.8-5.2, but usually more like 4.9. The more samples I got, the closer I got, but it wasn’t really what I wanted. I wanted to do some Fior di Latte.
So, I sought to buy a curd that had no coloring-additions, the right amount of fat content, and could stretch at the lowest temperature which keeps the fat in. So, like burgers, shakes and cookies, I obsessed over it.
I finally figured out that it was about the temperature control. Then again, when it’s done, you have to decide: do your brine, do you not brine?”
On his free time
I love spending time with my wife and kids. I love to play my guitar…I’m a strummer, not a soloist. I actually used to do open mics. It’s funny because I didn’t know anybody there, so it made it easier for me. Also, when I’m not here, I like to keep in touch with friends. But, in the end, the throes of daily life makes it tougher to keep in contact with friends.
There’s a reason why BSF in Greenwich has a steady stream of customers, one after the other. Yes, people would probably kill for their burgers, but we venture a guess that they keep coming back because of the connects they make with people there. In essence, Kory is selling more than burgers, dogs, tots, shakes, and fries. He’s forming friendships, bringing a community together, and making people feel like they belong.
Excuse us now…all this talk has made us hungry. Time to hop on over to Delavan Avenue.