It might seem like Shannon Bennett is a little late to the fast-food party, with Neil Perry opening Burger Project; Daniel Wilson franchising Huxtaburger; and George Calombaris and Shane Delia both opening upmarket souvlaki and kebab shops respectively. But Benny Burger has been in the works for four years.
“I started thinking about it because of my kids,” says Bennett (he has six of them). “My kids are into burgers, they love burgers, so I started looking into what it was they were actually eating, and I was astonished.
“Did you know a French fry from a fast-food chain has 19 ingredients in it? Corn oil, different types of sugars and chemicals, different salts – it’s astonishing how far down the list of ingredients potato actually is. All this just to get it golden and crunchy.”
Bennett has three Benny’s Burgers planned for Melbourne – the first will open at 430 Little Collins Street in mid-December, and the second in Richmond mid-2017. The third will likely be on the ground floor of the Rialto, but he’s looking at a St Kilda Road location, too.
There’s one in Sydney already – a tester, open since April, operating inside the international terminal at the airport. Eventually he’d like to have five shops in Sydney, and around a dozen in Melbourne.
With Benny’s Burgers, Bennett is trying to provide food you’d expect to find at a burger joint, but at its most ethical. There’s nothing in the French fries but Yukon Gold potato. The beef is organic and so is the milk that’ll be used in the shakes and soft serves. You’ll be able to get a bottomless cup of soft drink, but it’ll be Hepburn Springs organic cola.
He’s even gone so far as to develop his own burger cheese, which is the right shade of yellow but, he says, is without all the nasty stuff. His burger buns, made by the guys at Sydney’s Bread & Butter Project, are sugar-free.
“I’ve spent 15 years in fine dining, so I know some amazing suppliers, I have lots of skills and techniques, and knowledge of ingredients,” says Bennett. “I’m not throwing that away. I’m applying it to the hamburger. This isn’t part of a trend – I’m setting this up for the long term, to be part of Australia’s long-term food culture.”
Speaking of our food culture, Bennett’s response to David Chang’s comments that Aussies don’t know burgers? To stick one with beetroot and egg on the menu and call it The Chang.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be one of our most popular burgers.”