The Best Burger in Town!

Article from the Washington Post in the Grapevine


Article in the Grapvevine

Hamborgarabúllan Geirsgötu Hamborgarbúllan is an interesting place; it´s shape can best be described as...weird. Inside, the walls are covered with hipster Americana; a promotional poster for the first Blues Brothers movie, a portrait of Johnny Cash looking all speed-sick and beautifully ugly and a picture of the cast of the Sopranos blocked to put you in mind of DaVinci´s Last Supper, though without the mighty J.C. But out the windows, you can watch as the boat Hrefna Rós gets a new coat of paint before launching back into the bay.
The burgers are excellent. I had a simple single patty with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and ketchup with melted ´yellow cheese´. I was so happy to discover my beloved American cheese on the burger, I was nearly moved to tears. I highly recommend this place. Great burgers in an interesting spot, cooked right in front of you.
- Padraig Mara, Grapevine Online

Feature of the Week: The Burger Guy
Photo by Pall StefanssonPublished in Iceland Review 43.03, the fall 2005 issue. Interviewed by Adam Key Raney, photo by Páll Stefánsson.

Tommi Tómasson is known as the guy who brought hamburgers to Iceland. He’s made and lost two fortunes flipping burgers in Reykjavík. He told us some of his trade secrets and why he believes burgers are healthy.

AKR: Tell me about how you introduced Icelanders to burgers.

TT: In 1981, I opened up my first restaurant, which was a hamburger restaurant called Tommi’s Hamburgers – a Burger King wanna-be, if you will. But the burgers were good. In less than three years I sold over one million burgers and opened up six different restaurants under the “Tommi” name.

AKR: Sounds like you’re Iceland’s restaurant mogul.

TT: Yeah, but in 1992 I bought and renovated Hótel Borg, which was a major project that almost ruined me. I ran the Borg until 2003 when I sold all my interest in it and went traveling for six months to China, Argentina, Asia, India and Africa.

AKR: So what brought you back to burgers?

TT: In the summer of 2003, I realized I would have to do something in order to make a living. Still, when friends and family suggested that I get back into the burger business I thought, “No way!” Then my present building came up for lease. I started to think, and before I knew it I was renovating and building a burger place.

AKR: What’s the story behind the name of the new place – Hamborgara Tómasar?

TT: We decided to make it look like it was old when we opened it last year, and in a way that's why we picked the name, which means “Tommi’s Hamburger Joint.”

AKR: Any celebrity sightings we should know about at your shop?

TT: We have had many celebrities come, even our President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and his wife Dorrit have come. Also Björk. But mostly Tommi’s Burger Joint is a classless place where everyone can come and feel that he or she belongs.

AKR: Wasn’t there a Hard Rock Café at Kringlan (Reykjavík’s first mall) that you had something to do with?

TT: In the early 80s, I was so impressed when I saw the Hard Rock Café in London that I decided to open up one in Iceland. So that’s what I did in 1987. It cost over USD 4,500,000 to build. I ran that place for almost ten years.

AKR: Tell me one of your secrets to sure success.

TT: I once read that you should never eat at a BBQ restaurant if the chairs matched, and I think that goes for a good hamburger joint. It has to have this careless feel to it. Everything is allowed inside at Tommi’s.

AKR: In Pulp Fiction, Travolta’s character Vincent Vega can’t believe there’s such a thing as a five-dollar shake. Your shakes go for about USD 5.50. What do you tell Americans who gripe about your prices?

TT: I know prices aren’t cheap, but then again Iceland is an expensive country, especially for foreigners since the króna is so strong today. So a five-dollar milkshake is not that expensive for the local people. But for the tourist it sounds outrageous.

AKR: What’s the most popular order?

TT: That has to be the “Offer of the Century,” which is the regular 140g burger, fries and a soft drink, most often Coke. The average check is about ISK 900 / USD 15.00, which is not cheap for a burger. But remember, this is Iceland, where sales tax is 24.5 percent and everything is imported. When in Rome you do as the Romans do!

AKR: What has been the toughest part of your job over the years?

TT: Keeping the food consistent day after day is by far the most difficult job ever. People want to get their burger today the same as it was yesterday, last month, last year. And that’s not easy to do. Icelandic beef is organic. Good Icelandic beef is just as good as any, but it has to be carefully selected, which we try to do since quality is our pride. We are willing to pay top price for good beef.

AKR: So I’ve heard Icelanders used to serve up sheep burgers? Fact or fiction?

TT: I remember in 1992 there was a beef shortage in the country and we had to serve burgers from lamb at the Hard Rock Cafe. They weren’t bad, I mean at least they were much better than using pork. But lamb is not the ideal burger meat.

AKR: After all these years can you stomach eating another burger?

TT: I personally have eaten at least one burger a day since we opened up and never get tired of it. I am always looking forward to the first bite when I show up for work in the morning.

AKR: Don’t you feel unhealthy eating all those burgers?

TT: No way. Burgers aren’t unhealthy. If you stop to think about it, what’s in a burger? It’s good beef, bread, tomatoes and lettuce with ketchup, mustard and a little mayonnaise.

AKR: What do you think about McDonald’s?

TT: I respect the Golden Arches a lot. They are by far the biggest restaurant chain in the world. Their motto – “Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value” is something all restaurants should go by, followed by consistency.

AKR: How about Super Size Me? Did that film speak to you?

TT: When they came out with Super Size Me it was like a witch hunt. Of course if you eat a huge portion of French fries and a half a liter or a liter of Coke you are consuming too many calories. But it doesn’t make any difference what you eat if you eat more than you burn you will become fat. That’s simple arithmetic.


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