Don Karakas knows what kind of burger we want. It isn’t a lean, wimpy McDonald’s or Burger King sandwich. It’s a delightfully hedonistic slopfest, with a beef patty weighing out at almost half a pound, and heaped with cheese, freshly caramelized onions, and maybe even pastrami – because more salty, fat-rippled beef is always the answer. That’s the kind of burger they sell at The Butcher’s Son, a newly-opened burger and fries spot on Troutman Street.
“I make them really monster-style and huge,” Karakas said. “And junky.”
A shrewd businessman, Karakas did his research before opening a burger spot. Once he’d zeroed in on a neighborhood, he checked out the competition – and he found surprisingly few places that did burgers, shakes, and fries. He also learned as much as he could about Bushwick and the types of people who reside there. It’s “a lot of educated people, a lot of travelers,” Karakas said. “And they know what they’re eating. So you can’t cheat them.”
Though Karakas currently lives in Staten Island, Bushwick is his preferred stomping ground. “Somehow, I fell in love with Bushwick,” he said.
Karakas is a truly self-made man. When he arrived in 1986 at the age of 23, he set his sights on gas stations, opening up several of them in Long Island and Brooklyn before the Gulf War disrupted the entire industry. That’s when he turned to restaurants. It was the food industry that excited him, anyway; he loved the design process, the thrill of flipping a space and then selling it after a few years.
With the same determination as before, Karakas began crowdsourcing ideas, recipes, and inspiration from his large extended family across Brooklyn. His cousin, the owner of Soup N Burger in Sheepshead Bay, helped him figure out the concept and design the menu. He says he won’t be selling The Butcher’s Son; in fact, he hopes to open two more locations by next year.
While he’s now a seasoned restaurateur, Karakas admits that running a successful restaurant is never easy, especially when you’re not a famous chef. “You have to trust your menu, trust your location, and trust God!” he said. “I trust my god.”
Karakas drew other kinds of inspiration from his family. Painted on the gray brick wall of The Butcher’s Son are three butchers, two of them clad in aprons and newsboy caps and looking straight out of the 1960s. The artist is locally-based Kyrre Mogster from Norway. The two in aprons are Karakas’ uncle and grandfather, who worked as butchers back in Turkey. Karakas, while never a butcher himself, learned enough about meat from his family to know what he’s doing. That translates to high-quality burgers. They never freeze the meat, Karakas says. They also make everything – the toppings, sauces – from scratch every morning.
The restaurant’s signature item is called, intuitively enough, “The Butcher’s.” It’s a regular burger, layered with cheese, pickles, and pastrami. “Pastrami is my favorite thing to do,” kvelled Karakas. “But the new generation doesn’t even know about the pastrami.” Maybe, he hopes, it’ll appeal to the older New Yorkers, the ones who know what’s good.
There’s one thing Karakas is loath to reveal, and that’s the exact blend of beef that goes into his patties. “That’s really our secret,” he said, a glint in his eye. “Maybe, one day I can tell everything.”
Though the restaurant is fairly un-gimmicky, Karakas wanted a way to make people’s visit a memorable one. So, to further drive home how sloppy his burgers are, he hands out latex gloves with everyone’s meal. “I don’t think there’s anything like that New York,” he said. He’s probably right.
The Butcher’s Son is currently open for business, but Karakas plans to have a grand opening in the first week of November. He’s waiting on a liquor license right now, which he plans to have in the next couple of weeks, and hopes to offer a curated menu of original cocktails and local beers. For now, though, you can pair your burger with a “Monster Milkshake” and a side of freshly-cut fries or a salad. Vegans and vegetarians need also apply; there’s a Beyond Burger, as well as a housemade veggie burger and a falafel burger. Once he gets his liquor license, Karakas also plans to implement what he calls a “drunk menu” for clubhoppers in need of a quick, unfussy bite, as well as some more booze for good measure.
The Butcher’s Son is open every day from 11:45 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.
Cover photo courtesy of Rosanna La Carrubba..
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