Gourmet burgers sizzle in Lexington



By Roy York

Dallas Rose sits in a UK classroom 15 hours per week. He serves food at P.F. Chang’s 20 hours per week. And he spends 80 hours per week working as the co-owner and operator of Bunk’s Gourmet Burgers and Handcut Fries.

“Sleep is the cousin of death and being broke,” said Rose, a 23-year-old finance senior.

Rose partnered with Ryan Veith, former owner of Pita Pit and co-owner of Bunk’s, to open the restaurant in October 2009, specializing in the American classic: burgers and fries. The pair operates in the kitchen of Two Keys Tavern, but Rose hopes to expand with other Kentucky locations and start a nationwide franchise.

“I went into it thinking that I want to have 200-plus locations,” Rose said. “I don’t think Papa John started his (business) thinking he wanted to serve pizzas at his dad’s bar for the

rest of his life.”

Rose started in the food industry at age 16 and worked every niche from fine dining to fast food. While wearing a shirt that read “Capitalist” in bold, red letters, Rose explained his philosophy of running a successful business.

“You have to have a great product,” Rose said. “If your food is sh***y, you’re not going to get people in the door … I’m pretty confident in saying that we have the best burger in Lexington and maybe in Kentucky.”

While he said delicious food brings customers into the restaurant, Rose looks at every menu item as a cost and tries to determine how to make the most profit on every sale. He said many owners are not concerned with profit margins and efficiency, but successful owners put money making first.

“The most successful businesses are the ones that take something simple and do it better than anyone else,” Rose said.

The idea for the restaurant came to Rose and Veith after a separate gourmet burger project in D.C. failed. Rose said Two Keys was losing money from keeping its grill open and approached Veith to bring a different concept to the bar.

“We had this burger idea in our back pocket, and we just went with it,” Rose said.

Bunk’s opened despite South Limestone construction, limited parking and an impending winter that would slow foot traffic, but Rose said the location had appeal as well. The Two Keys kitchen included grills, deep fryers and many other large appliances, saving Rose and Veith from making an enormous capital investment.

“We went into this knowing that if we fell on our faces, we’d still be OK,” Veith said.

The partners have kept their heads above water, however. Rose said income since the opening has tripled and the business is close to repaying the original investment of about $20,000. He is not taking any salary from Bunk’s until the business is in the black, but he loves his work.

“There’s nowhere else I can come to work everyday and not have to answer to anybody and drink a beer while I’m making burgers,” Rose said.

Rose said most of Bunk’s ingredients come from local businesses such as Critchfield Meats and Kentucky Proud Produce, and no food is ever frozen. He said one food critic bragged that Bunk’s fries were the best he had ever tasted.

The co-owners take pride that their restaurant provides what Rose said is a unique food in Lexington. Rose said he thinks Kentucky is behind the times concerning gourmet burgers, but he is confident his business can thrive in the commonwealth.

“We’re not Burger King, and we’re not McDonald’s, and that’s not who we’re trying to compete with; I mean, that’s like comparing filet mignon to a piece of chicken,” Rose said. “There’s really nobody doing what we’re doing in Kentucky. Maybe Red Robin, but they’re like redneck gourmet.”