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Tonyburgers: A quest to build a better burger launched restaurant chain

By Valerie Phillips - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 3, 2021

Valerie Phillips, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Chris and Nicole Carver, owners of Tonyburgers.

During hard times, people turn to comfort food like burgers. That’s what Chris and Nicole Carver did when the Great Recession of 2008 hit. The Kaysville couple’s quest to build a better burger launched Tonyburgers, now expanded to seven locations.

Their premium burgers start with a patty (or two) made from three different cuts of beef and are customized with choices from a long list of toppings. You can polish off your burger with thin-cut, twice-fried french fries and a shake made with hand-scooped hard ice cream.

These details elevate a Tonyburger above a typical fast-food burger and are why fans are willing to pay more — from $5.79 to over $10, depending on burger size and toppings chosen.

Back in 2008, the Carvers were building luxury homes in Park City when the housing market collapsed, along with the economy.

“We had to figure out a way to support our family,” Nicole Carver said. “Chris has a degree in computer science, but owning a burger restaurant was his dream, and I went along with it.”

Valerie Phillips, Special to the Standard-Examiner

The Ol' Reliable double-patty burger at Tonyburgers.

Always a classic, burgers enjoyed a fresh wave of popularity at the time, as people scaled back on extravagant meals.

“There’s some comfort with burgers,” Nicole Carver said. “We never went out to eat when I was young, but my dad would barbecue burgers in the backyard. It’s just something that feels good.”

The Carvers’ first major challenge: Neither of them had restaurant experience. So they learned from the ground up.

“We were looking to do burgers better than anyone else,” Chris Carver said. “Before opening, we went to lots of different places — California, Texas, New York — looking for who had the best burger and what we could mimic.”

Their burger begins with precise amounts of three different beef cuts — sirloin, chuck and brisket.

Valerie Phillips, Special to the Standard-Examiner

The french fries at Tonyburgers are blanched in the fryer, then cooled and fried again in peanut oil as the order is placed.

“It’s really an art form to get the right amount of fat and proteins,” Chris Carver said. “We had a hard time until we found the right butcher. Wasatch Meats creates it and brings it in every day.”

They season the meat only with kosher salt. No pepper or anything else.

“The flavor comes from the three cuts of meat,” he said.

It also comes from the chrome flat-top griddle that the burgers are cooked on. “Chrome doesn’t have the pores that some metals do, so there’s no flavor transfer from what was cooked on it before,” Chris Carver said. “The meat also sticks to the grill better, so we get a good ‘crust,’ or the caramelization that happens when you put a patty on a hot grill.”

They named the restaurant after Chris’s younger brother, Tony, “who used to cook us these really thick burgers when we were younger,” Chris said. “We called them Tonyburgers. ‘Chrisburgers’ or ‘Nickiburgers’ just didn’t roll very well.”

Valerie Phillips, Special to the Standard-Examiner

The I’m So Bleu burger ($7.57) combines blue cheese crumbles, bacon, lettuce, tomato and a garlic aioli sauce at Tonyburgers.

The burgers are custom-built with a choice of toppings and sauces. The veggies — lettuce, tomato, fresh onions, grilled onions, pickles, jalapeños and mushrooms — are free. Bacon, cheese, a fried egg or onion straws cost extra. A single, quarter-pound burger with only veggie toppings is $5.79. Prices go up with larger or double patties and more toppings.

“Manager favorites” are flavor combos for folks who don’t want to think about choosing toppings and sauces. The classic combo is Ol’ Reliable — American cheese, lettuce, tomato, fresh onions, pickles and Tony Sauce (similar to fry sauce).

“‘My dad had a fishing lure called ‘Ol Reliable,’ because he could always catch a fish with it,” Chris Carver said. “He passed away right before we opened, so I gave a shout-out to him. It’s the classic burger you can rely on.”

A top seller is Tony’s Southern Burger, using house-made ranch dressing, BBQ sauce, jalapeños, onion strings and pepper jack cheese for a bit of a spicy kick.

I’m So Bleu ($7.57) combines blue cheese crumbles, bacon, lettuce, tomato and a garlic aioli sauce.

Valerie Phillips, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Deep-fried cheese curds were added to the Tonyburgers menu during the COVID-10 pandemic because they travel well as takeout.

The menu also has a “really great grilled chicken sandwich and an Impossible Veggie burger that’s better than you think,” Nicole Carver said.

The first Tonyburgers opened in Centerville in 2009.

“At the time, there was less competition, as some of the national premium burger chains hadn’t moved into Utah yet,” Chris Carver said.

The Centerville store did well the first year, and the couple opened a downtown Salt Lake location in 2010. It struggled at first, due to lack of name recognition.

Then, In-N-Out Burger opened a few blocks away from their Centerville location “and killed us,” Nicole Carver said.

They ended up moving the Centerville store to Clinton, where it thrived. The Salt Lake City store eventually picked up, “and it’s now our best store,” she said. “Word of mouth is what drove us the first few years.”

In 2014, Tonyburgers returned to Centerville, near its initial location. These days, it’s busy with customers, even with In-N-Out still up the street.

Salads were initially on the menu, but weren’t a big hit.

“I thought it would be a fun date night spot where you could get both burgers and salads,” Nicole Carver said. “But when people walk in and smell the burgers, it’s really hard to order a salad.”

They eliminated salads to simplify the menu when the COVID pandemic hit.

Deep-fried cheese curds were another pivot during the pandemic, when takeout became crucial.

“Our fries don’t travel as well, so we came up with a different side that travels well,” Nicole Carver said. “Our cheese curds are now a huge seller.”

They do big third-party takeout business, such as Door Dash and Grub Hub. “We take it seriously. We use bags with a seal on top, so the customer feels confident that the food wasn’t tampered with,” Chris Carver said.

Over the years, the Carvers expanded to stores in Holladay, South Jordan, West Valley and Herriman.

“We have a lot of really great employees that are a huge part of our success,” Chris Carver said.

If you go


Locations: 1917 W. 1800 North, Clinton; 100 W. Parrish Lane, Centerville; and five Salt Lake Valley locations.

Contact: https://www.tonyburgers.com

Prices: Burgers, $5.79 to $10-plus, depending on patty size and toppings.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday (Clinton); closed Sunday (Centerville)


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