"We use our burgers to distribute love and culture".
What’s the purpose of a burger joint? Cooking the quintessential comfort food, a mouthwatering burger obviously, right? But what if I tell you MJ’s, the latest addition to the trendy hippy neighborhood of Mar Mikhail in Beirut, has another purpose? And burgers are a means to an end, rather than being the end itself?
“The burger is […] a medium to deliver love”, states Mohammad Jaroudi, owner of MJ’s. Wishful thinking? You might think so. Too bohemian of a way of thinking? It would actually suit the area it is located in and its hippy residents. But no. It’s none of the above. For Mohammad, the purpose of his burger joint goes beyond meat, buns, cheese, onion relish, bacon or fries.
MJ’s was launched earlier this year in January 2015. Located at the heart of the trending area of Mar Mikhail, it targets clientele from 18 to 30 years old. Mostly laid-back customers, hippies, and sociable, they reflect the neighborhood in which the burger joint is set up. But MJ’s is equally appealing to elderly people, especially couples that are extrovert and are willing to try new things.
Renowned for its unique flavors and ingredients, MJ’s fills a gap in the market by providing gourmet burgers at an affordable price. “We beat market price by a little bit. We are affordable whilst providing good quality meat”, explains Mohammad, when asked to position himself in relation to his competitors. Mohammad sources his premium meat from Australia. He explicates how some joints claim that they are a 100% pure Black Angus, whereas they actually mix it. The proprietary reassures me that “it’s a 100% Australian Black Angus”. Another particularity at MJ’s is that everything is homemade, down to the unique dressings from beer mustard to sweet chili mayo. “In terms of offering that’s the difference”, he clarifies. “We don’t use packaged ingredients”.
Curious about Mohammad’s culinary creativity, I inquire about the source of his inspiration for such distinguished and uncommon ingredients. “I mainly put the things that I like. This is why the joint is called MJ’s”, he justifies in the utmost humble tone, without any narcissistic connotation. Mohammad enjoys experimenting, and cooking is his way of expressing his personality and transmitting his tastes to people. For the sake of interacting with customers, and creating a community brought together by “MJ’s choice”, the owner has come up with equally creative as tasty combinations: from burgers with wine, to beer mustard, to beer onion rings. He also took the cheeseburger to another level by introducing Gruyere and cream cheese to burgers, as well as the commonly known blue cheese and cheddar. However the task is not as easy as it seems. Mohammad does not randomly mix and match his favorite ingredients and expects to create a gourmet final produce. The creative mash ups derive from thorough research and scrutinizing worldwide burger joints menus. A new arrival this month for instance is the Bloody Mary burger. Needless to say that Mohammad didn’t just drench the meat in vodka and tomato juice.
Whether it’s an MJ’s burger, or a Bloody Mary burger, or a Gruyere burger, or any other inventive burger medley, Mohammad’s mission goes beyond making comfort food. “It’s a people’s business more than a burger joint. We use our burgers to distribute love and culture. The burger is more the “what” but the “why” is the love and the people’s culture”. Mohammad makes this groundbreaking statement that inverses the burger equation forevermore. Interaction and human imprint are at the core of Mohammad’s work ethics and constitute the foundation of his business model. The 23 year old entrepreneur insists that MJ’s is a “people’s business”, before it being a profitable business. Human interaction, authenticity, emotions and spiritual connection are core values in MJ’s bible.
Before being an avant-gardist burger creator, and a unique ingredient mixologist, Mohammad vows to “talk to customers and develop relationships with them. People come back 50 percent for the burger and 50 percent for the human interaction.” Whilst burger joints owners accord significant importance to the quality of their food, neglecting relations with their clients, Mohammad takes a different approach with his burger joint. He works on flourishing the relationship between him and his clientele and on strengthening the bond, thus providing the people with a “personal experience”. Less than five months after being launched, MJ’s has become the forum of MJ’s family, forming a tight community that shares similar values of authenticity, human interaction, and exchange.
The interior of the place is also favorable. The design aesthetics sets the mood for amicable exchange and spread vibes of a united community. The signature color of the burger brand is orange. Mohammad justifies this choice by stating that “orange is a very happy color”, and gives away “happitizing” sensations. A communal table occupies the center space of the joint. This game-changing asset encourages customers to interact amongst each other while devouring their delicious burger. The joint table backs up the groundbreaking equation whereas the burger is the how and the love is the why, and accelerates the interactive procedure: “each person is sitting alone and then someone finds the burger excuse and asks the other what burger they are having and before you know it they are sharing a meal together and making friends”.
Mohammad narrates the story of two regular clients that always visit his joint alone, both sitting separately on that commune table. One meal after another, they ended up always sitting next to each other and amicably conversing whenever they both find themselves there. The rest of the place is designed in a cozy manner. The bathroom sink resembles one that you would have at home, instigating a homey and friendly feeling. A peace sign also hangs above.
MJ’s friendly vibes are not restricted to the interior place. Mohammad promotes this interactive energy even outside his joint. “I even want people to consider queuing as an opportunity to say hi to the person next to you and exchange a conversation rather than waiting”. Talk about seeing the glass half full. Although the joint is ideally positioned at the heart of an area that benefits from a large amount of foot flow, Mohammad genuinely enjoys approaching roaming people on the street, conversing with them and inviting them to try his gourmet burger.
And if all of that is not enough, MJ’s also gives a percentage of profits to charities every month. Every six months the owner collaborates with a different charity. Currently, MJ’s donates part of his income to Braveheart, a charitable fundraising initiative, established in November 2003, at the Children's Heart Center at the American University of Beirut Medical Center. It aims to cover the medical and surgical expenses for underprivileged children suffering from Congenital Heart Disease. Next June, MJ’s will be working with the Red Cross, with the truly humanitarian and admirable aim of donating an ambulance.
It’s hard not to admire MJ’s peculiar approach. Curious to know more about his business structure, I ask him how he hires his employees. Mohammad never ceases to surprise me, nor does his humanitarian side. He objects: “I don’t like you calling them employees. I prefer the term team members”. Having made his much respected point, he explains that the MJ family is composed of nine team members including him. There are two waiters per shift, so four waiters a day. Mohammad deploys distinctive methods to hire his team members. He explains: “I hire online. The questions I ask are more about exploring the personality. I ask about your favorite book, the last article you read, whether you ever spoke to a stranger. What is the nicest thing you ever did?” Mohammad is undoubtedly an unconventional entrepreneur that has taken the burger business to another level.
The creative owner also takes into consideration the embedment of different platforms and the necessity of their interplay to form a successful business in the 21st century. Mohammad accords a significance importance to social media, on which he specifically relies to ensure foot flow in his joint, as well as word of mouth. MJ’s website and Instagram account are reflective of his mission statement. Both social media platforms are friendly, featuring people’s faces, and constantly reminding visitors of the importance of the human imprint for MJ’s. Rather than containing different burger pictures, both the website and the Instagram account talk about the team members and their varied personalities. This technique aims to give a face to the brand, thus furthermore personalizing it and giving it a human touch. “I don’t like Instagram accounts that are only about food. Our Instagram account is friendly. We do a sort of “meet our friends” and “meet our neighbors” sections.” With this narration of stories, MJ’s truly accentuates on the importance of interacting with clients.
Having established a namesake in the burger industry, prospects are high for future opportunities and launching new businesses. Mohammad mentions that he is planning on investing in catering. I suggest perhaps a delivery service, but once again, with interaction at the top of the MJ’s agenda, he responds promptly: “No delivery because I want people to come here. This is why I opened a joint. The point is for people to be here, not to eat at home.”
Whilst this feature is supposed to discuss a gourmet burger joint, I can safely say that 80 percent of what is written so far discussed everything, except for the burger itself. MJ’s has changed the burger joint game and taken it to an entirely new level forevermore. With mouthwatering burgers that make people cue for as long as it would take, gourmet ingredients, and premium quality meat, the standards are high and the struggle is real for competitors within the area. But most importantly, MJ’s is the proof that conscious capitalism exists, and is tasty. With core values such as interaction, authenticity, human imprint, culture and love at the top of the agenda, it seems to me that MJ’s is a burger joint with a humane identity and a soul.
MJ’s burger with signature cream cheese: bestseller
Sussi: Located in Mar Elias, Beirut for a local Lebanese breakfast. “It is as authentic as Beirut gets!”
You would want to read this:
The inscription on the card the Mohammad distributes to the team members, to have at all times, sort of like a tenet - orange of course.
MJ’s is a place of happiness and amusement. We offer our guests a healthy succulent bite and an urban-homey surrounding.
It is an all senses experience.
Our guests and team members for a bond based on friendship and equal treatment. We value each of our team member’s individuality and personality. Nevertheless, they must uphold the highest level of professionalism, courtesy and kindness.
We promise to try out utmost to provide the warmest of welcomes to out guests, attend to their unexpressed wishes and sincerely wish their return to the restaurant. Remember broad smiles are a must as well as the use of the guest’s name if and when possible.
For further information: