Brian Thornton, owner and operator of OH!Burgers, is a food industry vet. Starting in high school at Skyline chili, Brian realized that he loved the atmosphere. “I liked serving people food and just making people happy through food,” he says of that first experience. “I decided to go to culinary arts school with the intention of someday opening my own restaurant.” He wasted no time leaving for the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago). After finishing at CHIC, Brian attended OSU for Business management while working a series of restaurant jobs, including Hyde Park steakhouse and the Refractory.
The a-ha moment came when Brian attended the Food Truck Fest at Columbus Commons, thinking to himself – and I quote – “Well, that’s pretty freakin’ sweet!” Now that he had an idea to work towards, Brian once again put his nose to the grindstone, making a business plan for OH!Burgers while working at 89 Fish & Grill (formerly Michael O’ Tool’s).
There are two real stand out aspects to OH!Burgers- The miniature size of the burgers, and the replacement of the standard-issue side of fries with freshly fried sweet potato chips. “We saw the burger trucks and realized they were running super slow, so we wanted mini burgers. And we didn’t want to have a fryer on during the day so that’s why we chose chips,” Brian told me.
His formula seems to be working: OH!Burgers is running full time, and Brian’s chips started selling out within the first year. He turned to EDCI’s food business incubator, the Food Fort, for help. “I started looking for a new fryer, and started bugging Food Fort about running a fryer here. They allowed me to buy the fryer and put it in and start frying.” It has been a successful relationship. Of the Food Fort, Brian told me “The collaboration between the food truck owners, the food cart owners, different caterers, stuff like that is something that’s helped. Drove my business, I know that for sure.”
The chips are so successful, that Brian has shifted his focus. The potential is such that he is working as fast as he can to get them in stores- “I’ve already had people contact me about [that]… I’m turning people away right now to be honest with you. The chips have a much higher potential than the truck does.”
Future plans for Brian include opening a warehouse to increase production of his sweet potato and kettle chips. He hopes to begin operating from the warehouse in September 2014. You can find OH!Burgers at 4 String Brewing Company Friday nights or at http://www.streetfoodfinder.com. Connect with OH!Burgers on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OHBurgers) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/OH_Burgers).