River City's "Burger Passion" score seems to be off the charts.
A study by Clever, a national real estate-centered data company, found that Richmond is the No. 1 burger city in America, scoring above other-high ranking localities such as Milwaukee, Denver, Oklahoma City and Louisville when it comes to loving, thinking about, consuming and slinging hamburgers.
Ed "Fatty" Maksher, co-owner of Slay Burgers, says he isn't surprised. His small, funky takeout spot, with a colorful World of Warcraft gaming theme, opened in April on Brookland Park Boulevard, and is so far exceeding expectations. "I do believe that Richmond is the number one burger city," he says. "Just look at us. This month we've taken 4,400 orders, just in store. And an order can be one burger, or many."
Slay Burgers is taking off strong in a city already sizzling with notable burger joints – Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger, Burger Bach, Boulevard Burger & Brew, Roy’s Big Burger (if you’re old school), Beauvine Burger Concept and Eazzy Burger, among others. There's a fairly healthy debate among local foodies about who serves the best -- the Clever study says that Beauvine and Boulevard receive the highest online reviews -- but Slay's owners want to be a part of the conversation.
While its menu offers up a basic array of Slay Dogs, turkey burgers and chicken sandwiches – the Spicy OG Chick with special housemade sauce has become a popular favorite – this place specializes in thick "smash" burgers. That's five ounces of no-additive ground beef, hand-rolled and crushed on the grill for just enough time for things to get crispy on the outside. The burgers, depending on how many patties are smashed, or whether bacon and/or onion rings get added, can range in price from $7.99 to $12.99.
Slay's tender beef (and turkey) is sourced from A.J. Wendling Food Service in West Virginia, a large family-owned meat processor with roots going back to 1913. "Our burgers are never frozen," says Dennis Pitt, the kitchen's sandwich maker and cleanliness overseer. "We just ball them up and make them."
- Scott Elmquist
- Richmond loves burgers: Pictured is Slay Burgers' cheddar melt with extra bacon and slay sauce.
"Let's show him what a slay burger is," says Donte Fleming, the head griller and resident comedian ("I make everybody happy, so we don't kill each other," he quips. It is a tight kitchen). Maksher calls him "the best smasher in the North Side."
Fleming and Pitt used to work for Maksher and his partner, Mohammad Alradaei, at Dean's BBQ on Midlothian, but Ed and Mo sold that restaurant to turn their attention to burgers. The duo have owned the Boost Mobile shop on the same Brookland Park block since 2017. "We studied the area and saw that there was no burger spot." Alradaei says. "That's why we wanted to do it here. It's an amazing community."
Fleming chooses from a drawer of newly packed beef balls, throws the hunk on the five foot grill, and forcefully presses his "smasher" down. "It should be on the grill no longer than 65 seconds," he says, sprinkling some "secret" seasoning on the meat as it sizzles. "Ground beef is not all the same. It's got fat content in it and all of that is distributed differently so you've got to eyeball it."
It's a mild wait for customers to enjoy the made-to-order food. "I got my major in smash burgers," says a patron named John, already a takeout regular, standing and waiting for his Double Slay. "This is great food," he says. John and his friend Sam, who has ordered a double smash burger and corn dog nuggets -- "they're tremendous" -- live nearby off of Arthur Ashe Boulevard. They say they've been waiting a while for this spot to open.
- Scott Elmquist
- Alradaei and cooks Donte Fleming and Dennis Pitt, and Maksher stand in the kitchen.
Like many in the neighborhood, they were teased by Slay's coming soon sign for more than two years. Maksher and Alradaei bought the building in 2019 but progress was slow. "The place is from the '20s. We had it gutted and took everything out," Maksher says. The pandemic was another roadblock, Alradaei adds. "It took us a long time because we had issues with the city over the permit. This place was previously an ice cream parlor and it was small and it took a long time to get it ready."
In the meantime, the immediate neighborhood has built up a vibrant restaurant scene, with Shrimps seafood restaurant across the street, Manchu takeout chicken around the corner and Ruby Scoops ice cream, The Smoky Mug BBQ and Park's Combo nearby. "And I hear that there's more on the way," Ed says. "Overall, it's a good thing that we didn't open when we wanted, during COVID. It wouldn't be as big as it is right now."
So far, the reaction has indeed been big. But while burgers are the main attraction, one special side dish has taken the virtual spotlight - the Slay cheese curds. "We put a video up on instagram of our cheese curds and it went viral," says Maksher, a longtime fan of the Wisconsin side staple. "We ran out. It went nuts."
- Scott Elmquist
- Slay Burgers is located at 22 West Brookland Park Boulevard
Fleming and Pitt serve up our freshly-grilled smash burger -- with the joint's special Slay Sauce and pickles -- and it's just right: succulent, juicy and flavorful. Fleming reveals that Slay is about to unveil another special sauce, and Pitt offers some. It tastes sweet and sour, good enough to want to lick the spoon.
"That's our sweet garlic sauce," Ed says, mentioning other new menu features in the works, like a Caesar chicken sandwich and an Italian sausage. He promises to offer seating in the near future -- "stay tuned" -- and already has grand plans to expand. "In three years, I'd love for us to have ten locations. But one step at a time."
The Slay Burgers name came out of the Slayers, a World of Warcraft gaming guild that Maksher is part of. Several of the burgers, like the Big Ounce (double smash burger with cheese onion rings, bacon and BBQ sauce) the Fatty (triple smash burger) and the Boone (coming soon) are named after the co-owner and his role-playing friends.
The theme carries over to the realms contained on Slay's inside doors, emblazoned with colorful paintings, rendered by the local artist KingsFool, featuring World of Warcraft's Frozen Throne and Black Dragon. On the kitchen door, big burger icons Ronald McDonald, Wendy and Burger King are shown struggling on the ground, conquered and crawling away in defeat. Point taken.
"We're not really sticking it to them too bad," Ed laughs. "It's just a fun little stab, but people can use their own imaginations."
Slay Burgers is located at 22 West Brookland Park Boulevard. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday noon-6 p.m. 804-716-9310. Delivery available through Doordash, GrubHub and Uber Eats.