Andrew Zurica is the chef and owner of Hard Times Sundaes, NY’s #1 Burger Truck. Hard Times Sundaes has two permanent locations at Urbanspace Vanderbilt and Dekalb Market Hall. Before building the Hard Times Sundaes brand, Andrew owned another restaurant, Luncheonette, in Mill Basin, Brooklyn. Hurricane Sandy brought an end to Luncheonette, but Andrew remained determined and opened Hard Times Sundaes soon after. Check out this feature in Brooklyn Magazine for more about Andrew and his amazing story.
What has it been like operating Hard Times Sundaes primarily out of a food truck?
Not fun. It’s much more work than owning a restaurant. A restaurant on wheels is not a great idea!
Did you encounter any specific challenges when you launched Hard Times Sundaes?
Yes, obtaining the proper licenses and permits to operate a food truck is a daunting task. This city does not make it easy. If you ask me, operating a food truck in this city is not a good idea.
However, my food truck did get me to where I am today. That said, I do not recommend it to anyone when people come to me for advice on getting into the food truck business. I immediately try to talk them out of it.
An endearing (and delicious) trait of Hard Times Sundaes is its simple menu. Are there any special Burger builds you’ve wanted to create and put on the menu, but haven’t?
No. I believe in KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). It’s why I’m well known. A simple Burger like mine appeals to more pallets than a gourmet Burger created by a world class chef.
The Burgers at Hard Times Sundaes are made from 100% USDA Prime Chuck. Why is the Prime Burger your meat of preference? Did you experiment with other cuts/blends before landing on the Prime?
Chuck is all you need. It’s the ultimate cut for Burgers with the perfect amount of fat. There are butchers/wholesalers and restaurants out there that lie to the public about these so-called blends, and the majority of the public hasn’t a clue what they are eating. They just believe what they are told. This is the reason why I will never use a product other than Schweid & Sons.
I believe in KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). It’s why I’m well known. A simple Burger like mine appeals to more pallets than a gourmet Burger created by a world class chef.
Being the chef of a food truck known for its Burger gives you a unique perspective on the industry. What advice would you give aspiring Burger chefs or food truck owners?
Number one: KISS. Number two: Don’t go into the food truck business in NYC! This is why most of my business is now done in brick-and-mortar food halls. I only use the truck for private parties, catering, and street fairs.
How has securing two permanent locations (Urbanspace Vanderbilt and DeKalb Market Hall) for Hard Times Sundaes affected your business? Has it changed your approach to cooking/selling Hamburgers?
My approach is exactly the same: Quality, fresh ingredients and KISS. Now it’s just easier to be consistent and it’s much easier for my customers to find me.
What are you most looking forward to in the near future? Are there any big plans for Hard Times Sundaes (or other concepts) on the horizon?
As far as Burgers, I will be expanding outside of New York City with stand-alone Burger joints. This will happen in the next year or so. In the immediate future, I have just secured a lease to open a Brooklyn classic bagel spot. Stay tuned for more details.
Despite an inauspicious start—with the loss of your first concept, Luncheonette, to Hurricane Sandy—you’ve managed to build a beloved brand and achieve success in the Burger industry. To what to you attribute the success you’ve attained?
Patience, persistence, hard work, discipline, and never once doubting myself that I would succeed. And never compromising on the quality of my product, no matter what anyone had to say about it.
If there was one thing you’d hope someone might learn from you and your story, what would it be?
Everything in this interview! Special focus on keeping things simple and never compromising on your dreams.
What is your favorite Burger from childhood?
My neighborhood luncheonette where I grew up. It was a crappy frozen Burger on Italian bread. A lot longer ago than I’d like to admit!
What is the last Burger you ate?
Mine. That’s all I generally eat. I like ’em simple. Other than mine that I enjoyed? My good friend Chef Matt’s Burger from Pizza Loves Emily.
What Burger have you not had that you want to try?
I’ve never been wowed by a Burger. The main reason why I concentrate solely on Burgers today. Don’t tell anyone, but I eat more pizza than I do Burgers.
If you could share Burgers with anyone—alive or dead, real or fictional—who would it be?
Probably Mom and Dad. They never got to see me as a professional cook.