Burgers & Brew has been serving Niman Ranch products for over 12 years. We were thrilled when we had the opportunity to sit down with owner, Derar Zawaydeh, to learn about his journey and what inspired him to open this Northern California spot that’s known for the tasty burgers and a large selection of cold beers.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Jordan, then moved to San Francisco, California when I was 14 years old.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Burgers & Brew.
A: We opened the doors to Burgers & Brew in late 2007 in Davis, California. The whole idea was to open a burger place that can accommodate everybody, such as young professionals, families, and students. We wanted to make quality products available at a reasonable price. The goal is to have a great meal and not necessarily [have customers] spend half of their salary. Aside from affordability, we wanted the products to be amazing! Which is why we source from Niman Ranch for our beef and why we also focus on the buns, which is 50% of the burger. Being from the middle east, we are big on bread, so I used my knowledge from my mom who was a great baker.
Q: What inspired you to open Burgers & Brew?
A: I’ve always had a passion for beer. When I was living in San Francisco, only a few restaurants had a good beer selection so I ended up going to the local liquor store that sold high end liquors and beers to really learn and try specialty beers. Originally, I wanted to open a brewery because I was so passionate about craft beer, but I got to thinking, when you eat a burger, you want a beer, so that’s why I opened Burgers & Brew. We were a part of the first wave to sell microbrews and started with 28 taps.
Q: How many restaurants do you have?
A: There are 9 locations, including one at the Sacramento Airport, and we employ about 500 employees.
Q: What’s the best thing about cooking or working in northern California?
A: The ingredients are all here. The convenience is here. Also, the educated consumer is here. The Sacramento area is phenomenal. Obviously, we’re not San Francisco, but at the same time we have developed a good dining community in general.
Q: What did you do before you started working at Burgers & Brew?
A: I started out as a busboy at the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco right out of high school. That was my first experience in the restaurant world. However, I am an engineer by education. I received my B.S. in electronics engineering from San Francisco State. Once I graduated, I worked in Los Angeles for a couple of years. I then worked my way to Silicon Valley for about three or four years. During that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about my passion for restaurants. Eventually I had to jump ship from engineering and went back to working in a restaurant.
Q: How did you hear about Niman Ranch?
A: The distributor was the one who had me try the product. I was in search of a quality product that would differentiate us from the competitors. It was a clear choice when I tried Niman Ranch.
Q: Why do you choose to work with Niman Ranch?
A: Niman Ranch is a quality brand. Everything from consistency in terms of taste to the way it cooks, it’s truly, in my opinion, unmatched. Including how it’s humanely produced by small farmers, so the amount of care that goes into this product is unsurpassed.
Q: What inspired you to care about sustainability and humanely raised beef, pork and lamb and in turn, support family farmers?
A: Coming from a family that was not well off, I understand the difficulty that smaller businesses such as farmers have and the amount of effort that must be put in. Being able to actually support similar circumstances is something I care deeply for.
Q: What would you choose for your last meal on earth?
A: I’d want my mom to cook Niman Ranch lamb stuffed grape leaves. That would be phenomenal.
Q: What person would you most like to cook for or in this case walk into one of your restaurants?
A: I would like to cook for both of my kids, as well as my ex-wife. I love to cook and make sure all meals are presented in the best way possible.
Q: What is your favorite item on the menu?
A: My favorite item is the Niman Ranch lamb of course, but I also like spice, so I’m a big fan of our bacon jalapeno cheeseburger. Oh, and I can’t forget about our spicy guacamole that is made fresh right here by a talented team.
Q: What do you love the most about your job?
A: I love that I’m around people all day. It’s not an office job, so you come in and you’re in a restaurant environment. You can be talking with the kitchen staff or you can be with the customers. I enjoy the look on people’s faces when they eat and they like what they eat, it’s something that I hold close to my heart. I also love the look on a chef’s face when a customer tells them how great the food was.
Q: Where are you likely to be found on your days off?
A: I really don’t take days off, but the only time that I actually do is when I go on extended vacations, either outside the country, or outside of the state. My job is a vacation. Even though there’s a lot of stress associated with it, you get to meet new people every day, drink beer, and cook.
Q: If you didn’t work/own Burgers & Brew, what would you be doing for a living?
A: I’d probably be traveling and seeing the rest of the world.
If you are ever in Northern California, make sure you stop by Burgers & Brew for a great selection of beer and a meal that will satisfy your burger craving.