At lunchtime on a Wednesday, David's Burgers co-owner, David Alan Bubbus, bustled around the 1950s-style dining room in an apron, laughing with customers, refilling sodas and doling out French fries.
"Don't be on that computer. This is our visiting time!" he told a teen-ager using a laptop at one of the red and chrome tables.
The jukebox and the decor of the restaurant, at the corner of Markham and Bowman, are meant to remind customers of a simpler time. Bubbus, 31, also takes an old-fashioned approach to running his business. He was trained by his father and co-owner, also David, 67. Bubbus calls himself "working David," his 16-month-old son "baby David" and his father "grumpy David" because every time he checks in on the restaurant, Bubbus gets "in trouble."
David's Burgers is one of several family-owned Butcher Boy Burgers places in Arkansas. When Bubbus recounted the history of the chain, he started by pointing out his grandfather in one of the large, black-and-white family portraits that line the walls. He died when Bubbus Sr. was a baby. The youngest of six children, Bubbus Sr. went to work when he was 7 years old. The owner of Jacob's Meat Market in Levy took him in as an apprentice and taught him the value of hard work, Bubbus said. Bubbus Sr. became so skilled at butchering chickens, customers would ask for more than they needed just to watch him. "Back then, people took a lot of pride in doing something well and making it look pretty," Bubbus said.
This approach, along with Bubbus Sr.'s wealth of experience in the restaurant business (he's opened more than 100 restaurants throughout the state), is the foundation of Butcher Boy Burgers. For years, the family cooked burgers in the backyard. Richard Wilson, Bubbus' cousin, decided to start selling them and collaborated with Bubbus Sr. on CJ's Burgers (named for Wilson's children: Courtney and Jerrod) in Russellville, and it all took off from there. CJ's Burgers has been open about seven years, and Wilson helped convince Bubbus to quit the banking industry. "I traded in my suit and tie for an apron," Bubbus said. He opened the Conway location in November 2010 and the Little Rock location July 2011. Bubbus is looking at opening a store in North Little Rock near McCain Mall this year.
Although CJ's Burgers and David's Burgers are separately owned, they share the concept of using fresh ingredients, including beef ground in-house.
Beef production has declined in quality over the past few decades, Bubbus believes. "These days, the term 'mystery meat' is not a myth. It's almost a fact," he said. But at David's Burgers, "you know what you're getting." It all starts with 80 pounds of chuck, which Bubbus said is perfect for burgers because of the flavor. They cut it into steaks, grind it and then ball it by hand.
"The food business is something that's personal," he said. "Someone is coming into your store and they're taking something that you've prepared and they're putting it right in their face and eating it. It's almost like if you have someone coming into your home. That's what it's all about, serving a great product with great service to people you really care about. That way, it's not a job. It's a lot of fun."
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