‘Not the average burger shop’: Berkeley restaurant opens amid pandemic

Photo of Bunz restaurant
Forest design center/Courtesy
Talal Jaber opened Bunz, a local burger restaurant located in Southside Berkeley, in mid-July. The restaurant, which currently offers takeout and delivery options, also serves items such as hot dogs, wings and sandwiches.

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Macaroni and cheese, crispy onions and ranch are just a few of the variety of toppings that customers can get on their burgers at Bunz.

Located on the south side of Berkeley, the burger restaurant opened in mid-July, months later than anticipated because of the COVID-induced shutdowns. Customers can either order food to go or get it delivered, but dining in is not currently an option.

Bunz CEO Talal Jaber has been working in the restaurant industry for 16 years, and he currently owns the neighboring restaurant Seniore’s Pizza. He took over the lease for Bunz from the previous restaurant, Smoke’s Poutinerie, in November, expecting that it would take a few months to get set up, but the pandemic slowed down this process.

“(I) had to hang in there — couldn’t get a health inspector, fire inspection, everything was just on a pause,” Jaber said. “I had to pay the rent throughout the whole time, so it’s kind of hard, you know. (I’m) so happy I got the doors open.”

Since opening, Jaber has found it difficult to recruit employees and, as a result, could not maintain the 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. business hours he had originally planned. Instead, the restaurant currently operates from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., which is the “best part of the day,” according to Jaber.

Jaber said he is happy with the restaurant’s progress so far, but he has only noticed approximately 15-20% of the usual crowds.

“It doesn’t look like everyone’s back, so I’ve got to hang in there and make it work,” Jaber said.

The opening of Bunz does not mark Jaber’s first time serving burgers; two years ago, he opened a food trailer called Mini Street Burger. According to Jaber, burgers are easier to work with as a restaurant concept.

Aside from its selection of burgers, the Bunz menu includes hot dogs, wings, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, french fries and pie milkshakes.

“They always ask me what’s good here,” Jaber said. “I tell them everything is good — you’ve just got to start somewhere.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder for Jaber to open Bunz, he said it may have helped him focus more on getting the restaurant ready to open instead of rushing.

Jaber added that he spent at least three months working on the menu, trying to “think like a college student at nighttime.”

“I want to make burgers, not the average burger shop,” Jaber said. “When I see them come in here and they’re looking at the menu, all I’m doing is focusing on their face just to see the reaction as they’re reading all these items — and it worked, you know, they’re so impressed.”

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.