Fatburger is Opening Soon in Shanghai and Why That's Great News

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Tuesday, June 07, 2016 

under Food by Matthew Lu

Fatburger’s coming to Shanghai.



Enough said. Or is it? To West/Best Coast Americans, the idea of Fatburger so much as twitching a finger in the direction of Shanghai is a BIG deal. Fatburger is the classic Californian indulgence that remains unchanged by time. It’s “The Last Great Hamburger Stand”. Unlike Mick D’s or BK, Fatburger keeps much of the American culture that throws back to the golden days of the 50’s and 60’s.


But I’m worried they’re going to fuck it up. Screw the pooch. Flub the landing.


What the hell is a Fatburger?

Fatburger was started by African-American entrepreneur Lovie Yancey in 1947. It was originally named after her boyfriend, “Mr. Fatburger” and promptly changed to Fatburger once they split up in 1952.

It was a simpler time back then. The country was coming out of a long period of turmoil. People were scrambling to get married, build a home, buy a car, and reproduce. Horizons were being blown wide open by affordable TVs and easy access to all kinds of mass media. The idea of a Dream Life was growing thanks to programs like I Love Lucy, The Ed Sullivan Show, Superman, Martin and Lewis, Running Man, Dad Where Are We Going etc. Oh and the first Disneyland was about to open.


Are you getting the similarities here yet? Do we have to hit you over the head with it? America in the 50’s = Shanghai right now.


Back then, no-one even dared to dream about replacing sesame buns with lettuce, or deconstructing the idea of a hamburger. If you were to ask for, say, a triple-decker bacon cheeseburger with an egg on top and no vegetables, no one would look at you twice. Fatburger is the freedom to eat whatever you want, without compromising taste or quality. It’s for fast food lovers who love unpretentious, un-shit fast food, in the company of unpretentious people. It has a sense of humor, too. One of Fatburger’s veggie burgers, “The Hypocrite,” comes with bacon. I didn’t say it’s a good sense of humor, but it’s a sense of humor.


We need some of that in Shanghai, the city where “trend” is used without a trace of irony.


Fatburger is a company that loves pop culture, and pop culture loves Fatburger. Ice-Cube in It Was a Good Day; “No helicopter looking for a murder, two in the mornin’ got the Fatburger”. Biggie Smalls in Going Back to Cali; “if I want to sport her, take her to Fatburger”. Tupac, Late Night; “The club be poppin’ so I’m stoppin’ at the Fatburger.”


I’m saying that Fatburger has roots in rap. Rap stars even use Fatburger to rake in the dough. Yeezy opened two Fatburger locations in 2009 in the US, but both of them closed within two years. Pharrel Williams helped open three in Beijing. They’re still going strong because that stupid hat is full of savvy business acumen.


That’s right, Beijing’s had Fatburgers for like 10 years or something. What’s taking it so damn long to get to Shanghai?

Wait, who cares?


You should! Fatburger is your burger messiah; it’s what Carl’s Junior should be, Mick D’s wishes it was, BK tries to be. It’s the OG of Burger Stands that places like Grinder and Charlie's draw their fundamental inspiration from. It’s an institution coming to Shanghai at a time when it’s looking a lot like 50s America. Kind of. If you squint real hard and tilt your head to one side. Whatever, the point is, it was meant to be.


At last count, 3 Fatburgers will be popping up in Shanghai: Sinan Mansion, BFC, and Shanghai Tower. Be sure to go in hungry to order the XXL burger with 24 ounces of meaty goodness. If you are feeling adventurous, you can always take on the Jay Leno Challenge of finishing an XXXL in 5 minutes. You know at least two people already who could pull it off. You might be one of them.


“But,” I hear you say, “everyone knows you can’t just transplant a business model into China and expect it to succeed. You have to adapt. Conform. Compromise.”


I just hope it isn’t too much. Here are some things I hope the Shanghai Fatburger won’t do:

• Let customers ask for extra ketchup (there’s plenty. You don’t need more)

• Get Angela Baby as the spokesbaby. Does this scream triple-decker to you?



Didn't think so.


• Slowly replace all the young, hip, energetic, happy serving staff with not-so-young, not-so-happy, and not-so-energetic ayi’s. Not that ayi’s can’t be any of those things, just, you know. We don’t want “Burger King on Nanjing West Road” levels of resentful waiters at our Fatburger, it’ll kill the nostalgia.

• Pizza the Hut everything the restaurant is into a fake fine-dining establishment.

• Change the menu items to gimmicky localized dishes: unsweetened vanilla milkshake, green tea milkshake, durian milkshake… just don’t mess up the milkshake. Please.

• Refuse to serve cold beers along with their burgers.


The last one is probably the most important;

Flub the landing.


You know what’ll kill Fatburger? No one knowing it’s here. Or when it’s opening. So when the hell is it opening? What’s with the shroud of mystery? It’s not like it’s the iPhone 7 specifications here, they’re just selling burgers. A source at Fatburger said that the first restaurant will probably be opening this month, except it might be delayed a month or two if there is still some work left to do. So, “soon,” we guess.


Maybe this is them sticking a middle finger up at the F&B establishment in Shanghai. “We’re the Last Great Hamburger Stand, amigo, we don’t need no stinking launch party.” Maybe it’s Fatburger holding true to their down-to-earth roots, more interested in serving decent food than creating a media hypefest. Maybe it’s just going to quietly rock in under the cover of darkness and let word of mouth do its thing.


Or maybe it’s flubbing the landing.