Do not underestimate the power of the Asian burger. Chef/owner Lorin Watada and his team opened Bachi Burger in the southeast part of town in April 2010, and quickly built a reputation for tasty, inventive grub among local foodies and food industry workers. Two years later, Bachi hit the westside with a second store in Village Square.
Turns out that growth was only the beginning. Bachi’s taking LA this year, planning to open a restaurant on Sawtelle Boulevard in a bustling neighborhood known for endless dining options. Exporting our local deliciousness is one thing, but there’s even better news for Vegas eaters: Bachi is branching out with Shoku, a ramen shop set to open within weeks right next door to the original burger spot on Windmill Lane.
Watada took some time from empire building to share all the Bachi news.
Why burgers? I worked at a burger place back in Hawaii when I was 15 years old. It’s still open today, a family-run operation. Two takeout windows, and a parking lot that fits four cars. It’s been open for 60-something years. To this day, it’s the best burger I’ve ever had. I thought about that burger for years. When I was traveling as a chef, staying in hotels and ordering late-night room service, it didn’t matter if I was at a Ritz-Carlton or a Holiday Inn—it was the same burger. I thought, why can’t you do more with this? So that was kind of my inspiration to do something different.
The original Bachi Burger seemed to catch on fast when it opened two years ago. Did it seem that way to you? The funny thing is we were really excited back then about the numbers, but we look at those numbers today, and wow … We just try to maintain the consistency of our product. That’s very important to us. A lot of people describe us as fusion, but I don’t think it applies. When we incorporate Vietnamese flavors, or Chinese, or Japanese flavors, we try to stay true to those flavors and profiles. So a fusion burger place, I don’t think of us that way. It’s a very unique kind of gourmet burger establishment.
Many chefs tell us they love Bachi Burger. How do you think you were able to cultivate such a strong industry following? That was one of our focuses, extremely important to us. I’ve been a chef a long time, and traveled a lot, and you know … just because it’s midnight doesn’t mean you want to eat at Denny’s. At the time, we didn’t think this type of food was a big risk to take. There are a lot of burger joints on the Strip, but in the residential areas, this is kind of unheard of. It had been catching on in Los Angeles for three or four years already. But then in late 2010, Holsteins opened, an American burger concept with pork belly buns, a kalbi burger, a “rising sun” burger, a foie gras burger with poached pear very similar to ours. We like to think we were somewhat of an influence in this gourmet burger movement. I think we added another dimension by using specifically Asian-style flavors.
How many more Bachi Burger locations will we see? If we do one more in Vegas, it would have to be on the Strip or close to the Strip. We definitely don’t want to franchise. In terms of California, we don’t want to do more than one restaurant per area, so we’re looking at Orange County right now, but our current site in LA on Sawtelle Boulevard is under construction. It’s a pretty strong area, with a large Asian population but also a good mixed population. There are lots of restaurants up and down the street. It’s packed day and night, a big draw for people who like to eat out. It’s about an 11-month project, and we’re shooting to open the doors in late November or early December.
Are you excited about how your concept will perform out there? There’s very stiff competition in California, but a much bigger population, too. We have a lot to offer besides burgers. Our milkshakes have become really big. The amazing thing about the burger concept is that you can do almost anything with it. I mean, sushi would be a little weird, but when you’re talking about appetizers and salads and other complementary entrees that go with burgers, the sky’s the limit. There’s so much creativity. I’m excited. I’m not worried about the competition, because our focus is on doing the right thing every time.
When will we get a taste of your new ramen restaurant? It will open in two to three weeks. It’s called Shoku. It’ll be a very small menu, very focused on the quality of the ramen with the appetizers and dishes that go along with that. The thing about ramen is you have to get it right, you have to be spot on with the traditional flavors. If you open up trying to do all kinds of crazy stuff, it won’t work. We will be very focused on the traditional aspect, and concentrating on the little details like things you can add on, the garnishes and all the components that go into it.