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Umami Burger's brand sizzles with SBE backing

Adam Fleischman gets cooking on a variety of Umami-centric projects, including new restaurants nationwide, a downtown deli and anything else he sets his mind to with help from Sam Nazarian's SBE group.

August 11, 2011|By Jessica Gelt | Los Angeles Times

As he moves Umami forward, he wants to keep each restaurant unique, so no one restaurant looks the same or has the same menu. The nonconformist strategy is a reaction to burger chains such as Fuddruckers and Johnny Rockets, which Fleischman considers outdated and tired.

"People are bored of those concepts," he says. "I was focused on doing something new and exciting."

And the recession certainly didn't hurt. Umami was doing brisk business by December 2010, when GQ magazine named it burger of the year, partly because the recession was making diners look for less expensive options for a night on the town. Soon after, the article was featured on the front page of Yahoo, which led to 200-million hits on the Umami Burger website in one day.

"Our business doubled overnight, and it hasn't slowed down since," says Fleischman. "I was at the Burger Bash in Miami, and my phone was just blowing up."

Nazarian, who sold Fleischman a Santa Monica location that houses an Umami Burger (other locations include Los Feliz and Studio City), had been watching the hype from afar, as had his brother David. It was David who finally approached Fleischman about making a deal after hearing chef José Andrés talk about how much he enjoyed an Umami burger in a speech he gave at SBE's SLS hotel in Beverly Hills, which is home to the Bazaar by José Andrés.

"Here on the West Coast we are really driving pop culture," says Nazarian. "When you eat at Umami — outside of the burger itself — you see the culture. They aren't just selling burgers, they are selling an experience."

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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