Larkburger celebrates 10 years with free milkshakes, Dec. 9 | VailDaily.com

Larkburger celebrates 10 years with free milkshakes, Dec. 9

EDWARDS — Vail-born burger concept Larkburger this week announced it would celebrate its 10th anniversary today by offering each patron a free, small birthday cake-flavored milkshake, with no purchase required, at all Larkburger locations.

Celebrations will continue throughout the weekend, with social media trivia contests on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offering chances to win free burgers and more.

"We set out to create a place where families could go to get a quick burger and not sacrifice on flavor, ingredients or quality," said chef Thomas Salamunuovich, founder of Larkburger. "As we always look for ways to give back to our community, we're hoping to celebrate this milestone with all our supporters who have made our growth possible."

A burger is born

As a classically trained fine-dining chef, Salamunuovich had seen his colleagues "screw around with hamburgers and overcomplicate them," he said.

"I wanted to make a hamburger that I actually want to eat, and I looked at it as being an American kid growing up in California, falling in love with In-N-Out Burger in the '60s. What were the great flavors?" he said.

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Unlike the old-school quick-service burger, the typical fancied-up tavern version was missing a key element, Salamunuovich said — the sauce.

"The other key was toasting the bread," he said. "In the restaurants, nobody ever toasted the bread, and it was always something odd, some weird focaccia or some weird bun or some high grain-laden bun."

The chef's solution was a more traditional bun, light as a cloud and toasted crispy on one side, accompanied by a "beautiful sauce." From the day he first featured the Larkburger on the menu at Larkspur Restaurant in Vail in 1999, people were hooked, he said, which would later lead to the first Larkburger restaurant.

"It seemed to hit all demographics," Salamunuovich said. "All the kids loved this flavor profile more than the ones laden with ketchup and pickle relish."

In 2006, after years of enthusiastic responses to the Larkburger as a menu item at Larkspur, the first Larkburger location opened in Edwards, with a menu built from simple, high-quality, all-natural ingredients that reflected how Salamunuovich's perception had evolved in regards to what constitutes a successful dish.

"Way back, it used to be, is it interesting? And now it's, is it good? Do I want another bite? Does it give me a physical reaction, a heave of the chest, a roll of the eyes?" Salamunuovich said.

Each dish — from the original Black Angus beef Larkburger to the Rocket Power Salad and Truffle & Parmesan fries — is made from scratch, and menu items can be modified to accommodate those with food allergies and dietary restrictions.

"Food we hold in our hands has such an emotional reaction for us, compared with putting utensils in the way," Salamunuovich said. "When you're eating it, you're eating it."

Looking ahead

Larkburger has since expanded to 12 locations throughout Colorado, carrying with it a passion for food that provides not only nourishment but also an experience, Salamunuovich said, an ideal that begins with Larkburger employees.

"We can expose (employees) to real cooking and explain to them the real joy that it brings people, including themselves, and share with them what hospitality means: making room in your life for that which is not about you," he said. "We try at Larkburger to do it because, at the end of the day, that's what we remember more than anything, how we took care of each other."

Larkburger has plans for expansion in 2017, with continued growth in Colorado, Kansas City and beyond. The Larkburger team — including new CEO Todd Coerver, who took the helm in September — will be focused on hiring new talent and implementing systems and processes to accommodate the anticipated growth.

"It takes a long time to figure out who you are," Salamunuovich said. "It's kind of like marrying someone and you think you know them, then at 10 years, you turn around and say, 'I really did marry the right person. Let's go live our life together,' and I feel that with Larkburger."

By the numbers

Collectively, the dozen Larkburger locations in Colorado have achieved the following milestones in the past 10 years:

• Burgers sold since opening: 7,296,781

• Pounds of beef used: 1,554,900

• Total milkshakes sold: 883,666

• Gallons of canola oil recycled: more than 18,000

• Tons of waste saved from the landfill via Larkburger’s composting program: 1,063

• Amount of reclaimed cypress used in restaurant design: 19,000 square feet

• Total local beers sold: more than 163,000

• Pounds of potatoes used: 3,278,212

• Total charitable contributions: $139,105

• Environmental effect of Larkburger’s wind credit program: equivalent of removing 1,067 cars from the road for one year