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Over the past year, virtual kitchens and smash burgers have each become relatively well-known themes of the Toronto culinary scene at a time when people are craving comfort food and restaurants are looking for ways to innovate without investing heavily in real estate. Sammy's is a new concept that incorporates both of these elements and delivers a short but thoughtfully-crafted menu of indulgent classics like burgers, fried chicken and shoestring fries.
Nancy Chen, managing partner of the team behind Sammy's and beloved spots Otto's Berlin Doner and Otto's Bierhalle, says the concept was born out of the team's love for a classic sandwich and specifically, a burger. However, the fact that Toronto is already home to a hefty selection of great burger destinations is one that Chen is well aware of, and one that has influenced the way they have gone about crafting their version.
"It's actually been an interesting process because when you're doing something everyone is already super familiar with, the stakes are higher. You can't get away with not thinking through each element in detail," she says, explaining how their chef Alan Usher approached the menu by isolating each element of the burger and ensuring that it packs a punch.
"A good example is our beef," she notes, "making sure we're not just using any regular beef but sourcing a dry aged beef chuck with our percentage of fat in the mix to make sure we're getting that umami bite and those crispy edges you find in a smash burger."
Now that is a smash burger that is clearly going above and beyond, providing quality, taste and a meticulous approach that is likely to help them stand out in the space. But what exactly is it that has made smash burgers become so wildly popular in recent years? According to Chen, the familiarity aspect is there, since they don't necessarily rely on topping or bread innovations but rather, focus on the way the meat is cooked to deliver a unique experience and taste - crispy edges, juicy interior and that nostalgic burger taste that we all know and love. She also mentions the fact that many well-known chefs in North America have pivoted from high-end dining to making superior and high-quality "fast food" items, something that has helped to spotlight burgers and bring them back to the forefront of gastronomy.
Opening up during this uncertain time is no easy feat, but Sammy's has managed to leverage their sister spot Otto's Bierhalle and operate a virtual kitchen out of their space.
"One of the issues we ran into at Otto's Bierhalle is that people know it as a place for large groups and giant feasts where everyone's eating off each other's plates––definitely not a perception that helps you during COVID," Chen explains. "We had to test many approaches before we found out what worked for our business, but more importantly, found out what works for our community where many are going through a tough time during COVID."
The result was dialling in on lower-priced foods and developing a takeout-forward brand that featured their best selling items––in this case, the chicken sandwich and burger.
Sammy's was a way to serve these specific needs while reaching a whole new group of customers that perhaps Otto's didn't previously have access to. With Bierhalle and SoSo Food Club, the group's other traditional indoor restaurant that closed during the pandemic, it was necessary to pivot and adapt to the new reality, and Sammy's is a creative way for them to do that.
Sammy's mouthwatering menu is available from Wednesday to Sunday evenings on Uber Eats, DoorDash, Ambassador and Ritual. Follow along on their Instagram to stay updated on menu items, launches and maybe even a physical location some time in the future!