On Sept. 18 Americans will celebrate National Cheeseburger Day. But at Groove Burgers in Athens, any day is a good one to chow down on a burger crowned with cheesy goodness.
Tucked into the Epps Bridge Centre shopping and entertainment complex southwest of the city’s downtown, the Walton Gas customer has steadily built a loyal following since opening in 2016. Veteran restaurateur Bridger Loftin, who was previously involved in starting the Locos Grill and Pub chain, is the business founder and, oftentimes, the chief grill master.
Sept. 18 is National Cheeseburger Day.
Loftin developed the recipe for the popular Groove Burger, his take on the classic cheeseburger. It’s an all-beef patty topped with extra sharp cheddar cheese, thick-cut bacon, house-made pickles, signature “groove” sauce, caramelized onions, bibb lettuce and tomatoes served on a toasted yeast bun.
Running a close second in popularity is another cheesy choice, the restaurant’s Pimento Cheese Burger. Bacon and groove sauce pair with pimento cheese as the burger toppers.
More to love
Though the promise of a good hamburger may bring customers in for the first time, the overall dining experience keeps them coming back, said Alex Harris, general manager.
He believes simplicity is a key contributor to the restaurant’s success.
“We’re focused on just two things: good customer service and good food,” he said. “We don’t want to be a corporate-style restaurant. We keep things simple.”
That pledge includes the menu, which prioritizes “quality over quantity,” Harris said.
“We don’t want to be a cookie-cutter burger place.”
“It’s a thoughtfully crafted menu,” he explained. “We don’t want to be a cookie-cutter burger place.”
Many menu items, even the pickles, are made from scratch. Employees — many who have been with the restaurant since it opened — arrive early each morning to begin preparing food for the day’s lunch and dinner crowds.
“We’re proud to say our food is made by hand and in house,” said Harris.
How the food is cooked is also important, added Harris. Natural gas appliances dominate the Groove Burgers kitchen.
“Our kitchen couldn’t function without gas,” Harris said. The restaurant’s grill, stovetop and ovens are all fueled by natural gas supplied by Walton Gas.
In addition to its namesake burgers, the Groove Burgers menu includes salads and sandwiches as well as traditional meat-and-vegetable plates.
Health-conscious diners like the selection of vegetable side items. Roasted broccoli, brussel sprouts and Mexican-style roasted corn can be ordered as alternatives to hand-cut french fries.
“We get a lot of people who come by after they work out, and we see a lot of health professionals, like nurses, coming in,” Harris said.
Diners with allergy concerns also have the choice of ordering gluten-free items.
“We serve a lot of the allergy and gluten-free crowd.”
“We serve a lot of the allergy and gluten-free crowd,” said Harris. “We take their needs very seriously and make sure our kitchen is safe for them.”
Different by design
In addition to the food, diners are drawn to the authenticity of Groove Burgers, Harris said. It’s a different dining experience by design.
First, there’s the unusual name. It represents the grooves on the natural gas grill, which create a seared pattern on burgers, steaks and other foods.
The unusual, eclectic menu features Loftin’s original recipes tweaked with help from his employees. “He developed the core menu. Then, over the first couple of years, we would give him input based on our own tastes and listening to customers. That’s how we arrived at the menu we have today,” Harris explained about the collaborative atmosphere.
“It’s like you came to his house for dinner.”
Another important contribution is Loftin’s constant presence at the restaurant. When he’s not behind the grill preparing orders, he’s roaming the dining room to chat with customers. “It’s like you came to his house for dinner,” Harris said.
Even the tables and bar are unique. They were constructed by Loftin and other local craftsmen.
Harris helped build those tables and then stayed on to become one of the restaurant’s first employees. Of all the unique aspects of the restaurant, his favorite is the camaraderie that exists among its employees.
“I love the family atmosphere,” he said. “People really love coming to work here, and that shows in how we engage with our customers.”
Groove Burgers is located at 1791 Oconee Connector in Epps Bridge Centre. The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, nine big screen televisions and a full bar. Operating hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.