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Phyllis Farquhar on The Evolution of The Sketch Burger

Sketch Burger was ahead of the burger curve.
Sketch Burger was ahead of the burger curve.
Photo: Uwishunu

While Philly is stacked with fantastic high-end burgers in 2013, that wasn't the case just a few years ago. But, restaurateur Phyllis Farquhar was way ahead of the fad when she opened Sketch Burger in 2008, and today they're considered one of the best, if not the best, burger in town. With each passing year, the menu adds new classics and perfects old favorites.

Eater chatted up Farquhar about how Sketch came to be, the evolution of their famous burger, and some of the early missteps they ran into during the early days of the business.

When did Sketch Burger open up shop?
We opened up in 2008 in Fishtown. The area wasn't really built up the way it is today, but the neighborhood really grew up quickly.

Sketch Burger is often listed among the best burger joints in Philly. What sets you apart from the competition?
I think it's the whole experience. I mean, we have great burgers, but it's really about the family environment, too. We have the paper tablecloths that people draw on while they wait for their burgers, and it really seems to make people happy, and has been an attraction since opening. And, we don't have a liquor license, which is a big challenge in this business. You can't imagine how difficult it is to bring in a crowd without alcohol. But, we've made it work.

Well, we're really focusing on the burgers at Sketch. They're fantastic, and have gotten lots of attention from the media. What makes them so great?
It took about a year to get the grind just right, but it's fantastic. Our patty is an inch thick and made up of brisket, short rib, and chuck. We noodled with it for a very long time, and the people at Exceptional Foods were very patient in working with us to come up with our signature patty. They're very talented. And, it's a great burger.

What made you decide to do a burger joint?
Well, I had a restaurant before called Canvas. And, I knew I wanted to do another place, but I was getting older, and needed something simple. The burger is simple, but it's also tough to do just right. But, I like to think we've got it down pat, and the crowds grow every year. You won't believe the number of people that come through here.

What would you say is your philosophy when it comes to burgers?
I believe in doing one thing and doing it well. When we conceived the idea for Sketch Burger, I knew that burgers would be the focus, obviously. But, I was obsessed with getting the product just right, and it became a labor of love.

Besides the traditional beef burger, what else is popular?
We really got into the game meats, and there's quite the demand. We move a lot of bison and ostrich burgers, and our lamb burger is pretty popular, too. We sell around 740 regular burgers each week, and 100 Kobe burgers. In addition, we sell about 40 bison and 40 ostrich burgers each week.

What were some of the early changes you made to the operation?
Funny enough, you really can't sell burgers without fries. But, we opened up shop without a fryer because they're so darned expensive. And, we heard about it from the locals. So, we invested in a fryer a little down the road, and now we have fantastic fries to go along with our burgers. They're all cut by hand too, which is terribly hard work, but it's a labor of love, as well.

What does the future hold for Sketch Burger?
Well, we continue to add to our menu all the time, but we love what we're doing, and Fishtown has been good to us. And it's been amazing to see how the burger culture has evolved as well. But, we're thankful that the crowds have kept on coming, and that we've been given so much love by the media as well.

· All Burger Week Coverage [~EPHI~]
· Sketch Burger [Official]

Sketch Burger

413 E. Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, PA