American Gourmet Burger Restaurants in Frankfurt a. M., Germany – A German Love Affair? By Christine Scheffer and Marilu Jemming

Better meat, better buns, nicer places – that’s what gourmet burger restaurants in Frankfurt, Germany stand for. The phenomenon of increasing numbers of gourmet burger restaurants (producing so-called craft-burgers) is not limited to Frankfurt: The phenomenon is noticeable in many cities, also internationally. The burger boom is never ending: Just last week, the American burger restaurant chain “Five Guys” opened a store in the city center of Frankfurt (Mercurist 2017). The demand for good-quality burgers with more options for sides and toppings has been ongoing for years now: according to the study of the Dalia market research company, “demand for gourmet burgers and a trend away from established fast food giants such as McDonald's and Burger King really began to boom in Germany in 2015. That year in the nation's capital, the number of high-end burger joints skyrocketed from 1 to 100, according to Handelsblatt Global“ (TheLocal 2017). So, tastes seem to have changed; urban eaters and “foodies” are willing to spend more money on good quality, freshness, sustainability and the possibility for multiple choices. While strolling through the streets of the inner-city quarters, we also noticed that in Frankfurt, there are many high-end gourmet burger restaurants, with names claiming to be “better” or “gourmet” (e.g. fletcher’s better burger, Heroes Premium Burgers, BurgerMeister, etc.).

The present paper examines the gourmet burger restaurant phenomenon in Frankfurt, Germany. It analyzes where this food phenomenon takes place in the city and why. The paper is split into four sections. After the introduction, section two introduces the methodology used in the research. Section three presents the findings of the research, which are framed by theoretical aspects of spatial and social processes and how they are linked to food practices and tastes, shaping neighborhoods. At this point, taste is considered to be a tool of distinction. The presentation of the findings is supplemented by maps. The last section concludes with final remarks on the research that was conducted.

To experience the American Burger landscape in Frankfurt we decided to visit the city. We wanted to examine the areas and quarters where these restaurants are located based on observations. To do so we specifically chose an old and famous “food-street” in Nordend-Ost (Berger Straße) and the Altstadt where many burger restaurants are situated. Walking around these neighborhoods we explored the physical structure of these quarters, also looking for social aspects that we could reason through the people walking by.

To get an even more detailed view for our research, we chose to visit a burger chain restaurant (Jamy’s Burger) as well as an owner operated one (Heroes Premium Burger) to see how they might differ in their location or for example their customers. It was very important for our research to talk to the owners to get more insider information on the way the burger scene in Frankfurt works. The easiest to do so was by having a meal at these restaurants, thus getting into conversation with the owners or waiters and experiencing the atmosphere (other customers, interior) in person.
To show how this food phenomenon may affect the city, we juxtapose it with other social or economic aspects of the urban area. Taking the spatial aspect into account, we further wanted to take a closer look at the distribution of the burger restaurants. Based on the observations we made at the beginning, we first analyzed how the visitors’ movement may be linked to the location of the burger places. Secondly, we compared the number of restaurants to the spending capacity of the corresponding city quarters (surrounding Innenstadt and Altstadt). In the following paragraph the findings will be presented.  

While visiting the first burger restaurant, the owner-driven Heroes Premium Burger restaurant, we ascertained a huge burger offer with many options. The restaurant is located nearby the Berger Straße, a well-known “food-street” in Frankfurt. The manager of the restaurant explained us that the owner of the restaurant wanted to create an exclusive and novel burger establishment with “better” burgers, thus chose the name “premium”. While spending time in the restaurant and eating, we noticed and the manager confirmed us that the clientele of the restaurant is mainly composed of young (between 20 – 40/50 y.), white academics, professionals and tourists. The manager was really interested in our project and even suggested us other burger restaurants to try out. This demonstrated us, that gourmet burger restaurants in Frankfurt, or at least owner-driven restaurants, don’t compete against each other, but see themselves as a huge community, creating a gourmet burger culinary culture in Frankfurt altogether. While attending the second burger restaurant in the Altstadt of Frankfurt, a small chain named Jamy’s Burger, we noticed that the clientele was mostly identical to the first burger restaurant. Located in the most central position of the city, tourists were present to a greater extend. The observations in both restaurants combined with other ascertainments (e.g. elevated prices of the burgers [Jamy’s Burger: basic cheese burger = 7€ + fries = 3€], personal and lovely designed decoration, affirmations of good/better quality, freshness and sustainability in the restaurants) led us to the deductive reasoning, that visitors of such kinds of “gourmet” restaurants are willing to spend more on good quality, freshness, sustainability and the possibility for multiple choices. This may be explained by the fact that “higher class” people and “foodies” use gourmet burger restaurants as a means of distinction compared to lower class people. Regarding this point, gourmet burger restaurants function as boundary creators of social spaces and practices, regarding social and economic class subject matters. By these practices, urban eaters and “foodies” can transform urban neighborhoods and can even contribute to gentrification, gastro-gentrification (Lemon 2017) and, in this case, to a veritable “burgerization”.

Taking the spatial aspect of an urban area into account, we linked the distribution of the American burger restaurants to the movement of social groups, such as visitors, inhabitants or simply pedestrians in the city center of Frankfurt. As you can see on the following map 1, the restaurants tend to accumulate near the main stream of visitors moving in and out of the city (e.g. the route connecting the main station to the core inner city and the Zeil shopping street).

Map 1: Main streams of visitors in Frankfurt inner city

The second map takes a closer look at the spending capacity of the residents of the different quarters surrounding the inner city. When adding up the number of restaurants to each neighborhood and comparing it to the spending power of the inhabiting people, a correlation can be seen. Quarters marked by a green color tend to have a higher quantity of gourmet burger restaurants, for example Nordend-Ost. Neighborhoods like Altstadt, Innenstadt and Bahnhofsviertel (yellow color = lower) may differ from that conclusion, because the number of restaurants are linked to the mentioned high visitors rate. Undoubtedly the phenomenon of American burger restaurants can be linked and is also emphasized by the ongoing gentrification in these quarters.

Map 2: Spending capacity of local residents (green= highest spending power, yellowish orange= lowest spending power) + number of burger restaurants in each quarter

To finish the paper, our mayor findings will now be summarized in a concluding section. 

Can we talk of a German love affair with American gourmet burger restaurants? In the case of Frankfurt, we surely can. As a confirmation of the study of the Dalia market research company, Jamy’s Burger restaurant opened in 2015. The Heroes Premium Burger restaurant has been a pioneer on the gourmet burger heaven of Frankfurt and opened in May 2011. In the following years, scores of gourmet burger restaurants opened in Frankfurt and in other urban areas in Germany. Trends show that people are willing to spend more money on better quality to the disadvantage of cheap burger restaurant chains like McDonalds. Now, gourmet burger restaurants are a dime a dozen. Through the generation of a veritable hype, the American gourmet burger has arrived in the middle of society.

Lemon, Robert D. 2017: Food as a Spatial Practice. 

Mercurist 2017: Five Guys kommt nach Frankfurt.
TheLocal 2017: Will the German love affair with the gourmet burger ever end?



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