Bareburger joins Center City burger scene

Owner Daniel Kemelman amid reclaimed decor at Bareburger, 1109 Walnut St.

Many of us live life by a credo, whether it's "I believe in the Church of Baseball" or "Never eat anything bigger than your head."

Daniel Kemelman found his mission statement on a bumper sticker: "Gravity is just a theory."

"There's nothing stopping you from flying," he adds.

Such is the optimism of a man opening his first restaurant at age 23.

On Monday, Sept. 1, Kemelman soft-opens his franchise location of Bareburger, at 1109 Walnut St.

He's entering the better-burger arena in a big way. This will be the first Philadelphia location for Bareburger, which started in New York; it's location No. 20 overall. It replaces a Five Guys location, which closed a year ago.

Bareburger is not fast food. It's a full-service restaurant with a bar - albeit a small one, with just six seats. (Kemelman's liquor license is in the works.)

It also takes environmental issues such as organics and recycling to the nth degree. The meat is free-range, pasture-raised, humanely raised, antibiotic-free, hormone-free - whether it's beef, turkey, elk, wild boar, bison or goat. The canola oil used for frying is 100 percent non-GMO. The menu - which has a dizzying number of burgers, sandwiches, salads and sides - caters to omnivores, vegans and those shunning gluten. The bar list - beer, wine, cocktails - is organic.

All the restaurant's decor is recycled - light fixtures are made from old silverware and chicken wire, walls include original brick plus wood from old barns, tables are reclaimed. The ceiling is tin from somewhere else.

Kemelman, a New Yorker whose family fled from the Soviet Union in 1979, came to Bareburger first as a customer. He attended Baruch College for a semester. He was home briefly from his deployment in Kuwait with the Army National Guard's Fighting Sixty-Ninth when he joined friends for dinner. He was impressed with the atmosphere.

His next time home, he was debating his future. "I didn't feel like going back to college," he said. "I didn't want to sit in a classroom." 

He ended up going out with friends to a different Bareburger, and learned that it was a franchise.

"A franchise would teach me how to set up and run the business," he said. "I had some money and I knew a lot of people." 

He asked Bareburger to open a location in New York. Sorry. Taken. Boston, perhaps? Locked up, too.

But, they asked, how about Philadelphia?

After a search for a location last year, Kemelman relocated to set up the business. "I'd heard only good things about how wonderful the food scene is," he said.

The Bareburger - which has fewer than 50 seats - is across from the Forrest Theater. It's roomy - lots of aisle room for strollers. (Yes, there's a children's menu.)

Bareburger is open for lunch and dinner daily.

The menu starts with 14 burgers, from $9.65.

Burgers can be made of beef, turkey, black bean, or sweet potato and wild rice, plus a grilled lemon chicken breast.

Figure on $35 for two - which may sound like a lot for a burger meal, "but you're getting quality not like you might expect," he said.