Restaurant News & Reviews

Feast Q&A: Sacramento twin brothers cook up tasty side job

Jonathan, left, and Matthew Burgess also offer barbecue at Burgess Brothers Burgers, which they opened in 2012.
Jonathan, left, and Matthew Burgess also offer barbecue at Burgess Brothers Burgers, which they opened in 2012. cmeyer@sacbee.com

Burgess Brothers Burgers, a fast-casual burger and barbecue restaurant on Sutterville Road across from Sacramento City College, bills itself as being “committed to service.”

That means more than getting orders out quickly. Twin brothers Jonathan and Matthew Burgess, 41, boast long careers in public service. Jonathan is a Sacramento Fire Department battalion chief and Matthew a California Highway Patrol sergeant.

Their restaurant’s wall art carries through the public-safety theme. Photos of firefighters and officers in action deliver a less-than-subtle message to criminals and firebugs that this is not the place for them, no matter how much they may enjoy the burgers and brisket.

The Burgesses were food-industry rookies when they opened the restaurant in 2012. They since have built a sturdy customer base for the restaurant, and expanded their brand, while maintaining busy full-time jobs. (Though they did all the cooking when the restaurant opened, they since have transferred most of those duties to staff members, who work from the brothers’ recipes).

In July, the brothers introduced their sweet-earthy Burgess Brothers bottled barbecue sauce to the shelves of local grocery stores, including some Safeway, Save Mart and Raley’s/Bel Air locations. A portion of proceeds from each bottle sold goes to the Firefighters Burn Institute.

Last month, the brothers rolled out a new food truck. The truck will appear Sept. 26 at Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Festival on Capitol Mall.

We caught up with the brothers, who are Sacramento natives and McClatchy High School graduates, at their restaurant.

Q: Why did you two decide to start a restaurant?

A: MB: Because I beat him in a burger contest. We did a burger contest on “Good Day Sacramento” back in 2010. My brother was the public information officer for the fire department. (The station) knew he had a twin brother, and they kind of wanted a competition between police and firefighters. So we went on. And I won.

JB: He won, but he wore his gun belt … that’s intimidating. He wears a gun to a burger battle. Who does that?

MB: They said wear a uniform. My burger is better (smiles).

Q: How did that lead to opening a business?

A: MB: Ultimately (“Good Day Sacramento” host) Cody Stark said, “These burgers are really good, you should think about opening a burger restaurant and naming it Burgess Brothers Burgers.”

Q: It’s catchy.

A: JB: Yes. In addition, after we went on TV, we got a lot of phone calls from people who knew us. That really helped spark it. Then we told our wives, and they thought we were crazy, because we’d never owned a restaurant. So we catered for about a year, to try to build some clientele and get our name out.

Q: The sign outside says “burgers,” but your focus now seems to be more on barbecue.

A: JB: At first, we did burgers only during the week, and barbecue on the weekends. The barbecue became very popular. We made the decision that it would be good for business to do barbecue all the time.

Q: Jonathan, did you ever cook for the crew in the firehouse?

A: JB: One of the things you do, as you go up the ranks with the department, is cook. I grew up cooking with my mom (Bernice), so I already knew how to cook. (But) there were some recipes I got, like rubs, from the fire department. There are some good cooks in the fire department. As a battalion chief, I don’t do much cooking now.

Q: Did you both learn to cook from your mother?

A: MB: Yes. She taught us to cook by look, taste and texture, whether it was making homemade sausage or spaghetti sauce. … She never used a recipe for anything.

Q: Does she visit the restaurant?

A: MB: She does, and when something is missing (in the food), she will smile and let me know. She will know I didn’t cook it. She will say, ‘You need to tell these cooks to put X, Y or Z in it.’ 

Jonathan and Matthew Burgess

The twin brothers, who also work in public service, own Burgess Brothers Burgers (2114 Sutterville Road, Sacramento); (916) 594-9847; burgessbrothersburgers.com

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