Interview: New York Fries founder Jay Gould on the new burger wars

This is a portion of an article, written by Mark Brown, that can be found on

Jay Gould has spent much of his career copying the successes of others. His first venture, Cultures, a healthy lunch spot, was inspired by a restaurant in Manhattan. Similarly, he and his brother transplanted New York Fries from the Big Apple to Canada in the early ’80s. But South Street Burger Co. is all Gould. He spent a year developing the concept before opening the first store in 2005. While most quick-serve restaurants see growth in the breakfast market, Gould is pouring pints to attract the dinner crowd. When the smoke clears from these premium burger wars, Gould plans to be one of the guys left standing—with a pint in one hand and a burger in the other.

You founded New York Fries in 1984, but it took you 20 years before you expanded into burgers, in 2005, with South St. Burger. Now you’re trying out a new concept—the South Street Burger Bar—serving craft beers alongside the burgers at a select number of restaurants. Why experiment when you could simply focus on growing the South Street brand?

Consumer tastes have gone decidedly upmarket. People these days are better educated about the food they eat. They want to see natural ingredients. They want to see better quality food and, if they can afford it, that’s where they are going. The benchmark for the QSR [quick-service restaurant] business is consistency, where you can go to one place and expect the same thing you got at the last one. If that falls apart, then suddenly McDonald’s is out of business. But I think that also allows for a little bending of the rules with things like South Street Burger Bar. In this business, I think customers actually expect you to build locations that aren’t carbon copies of the last one—they just want to know they are going to get the same reliable food quality when they get here.

Burgers and beer obviously go well together, but was there another reason you joined the two?

You can only do so much at lunch. A big part of the QSR business is going after the breakfast market. That’s a very competitive spot right now and one where I don’t think we have the horsepower to penetrate. We don’t have the marketing budget. We’re not in the right locations, and I don’t think our coffee program is good enough. Instead, we’re taking what we have and tweaking it for the evening business, which is a huge opportunity for us. Lunch is a lock; dinner isn’t. South Street Burger Bar is designed to attract the dinner crowd and [downtown Toronto] is the ideal place to try it, where you have a lot of young professionals, a lot of new condos, a lot of new office buildings and not a lot of either bars or burger joints, surprisingly. We also have plans to do one in Ottawa beside the Lansdowne Park redevelopment area. They will be site-specific.