Elevation Burger Arrives
A franchise based on organic fast food
by Sally Mitani
Mike Tayter wanted to come back to Michigan and start his own business. He and wife, Sarah, were both raised in Michigan--she in Kalamazoo, with a Presbyterian minister mother and Jewish pediatrician father (to thoroughly mix things up, she went to a Catholic high school). He, the son of Soviet Union immigrants, grew up mostly in Fremont. They met during their undergraduate years at U-M, where they both went on to advanced degrees--he to an MBA, she to law school.
By any measure they were a successful young couple. She stopped practicing law to raise daughters Emma and Hannah, and he had landed a job as procurement director at Dell. But the job took them to Austin, Texas, far from their families. So he started thinking about business opportunities.
"Everyone says, 'Don't do food, don't do restaurants,'" says Mike, but that was the only kind of business that seemed logical to him: "We all eat food." Sarah agreed, to a point, but "she said that if we were going to do a restaurant, it would have to be a franchise," which would at least give them a template to work from. When it came to picking a franchise, there wasn't any question which one it would be. Down the street from them in Austin was Elevation Burger, with a simple, quality menu of organic, antibiotic-, pesticide-, and hormone-free burgers, fries, and shakes. It was just starting to gain traction (there are currently only forty in the country). They bought the rights to open three in Michigan.
Elevation's competition isn't McDonalds and Burger King. "Our demographic is Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Chipotle," says Mike. This one is quite near all three--in Chalmers Place on the stretch of Washtenaw between Whole Foods and Arborland. (Sarah also gives away a neighborhood secret--there's access through Chalmers Drive, a picturesque meander that ends at Huron River Drive.)
The fact that Ann Arbor supports two Whole Foods is what makes Mike think it
can support two Elevation Burgers; this is their first, and their second one will be on campus. There he does have some competition--Great Plains Burger on Plymouth near North Campus and BurgerFi, coming soon to South U, both claim to be "natural" (and there's also Five Guys, which doesn't claim to be anything but really good, and is huge--it dominates the premium burger market). "Theoretically," says Mike, pausing to make sure his skepticism is registering, "'natural' means hormone and antibiotic free, but in practice it doesn't really mean anything because it's unregulated. We're organic, and that's heavily regulated. We're hormone, pesticide, and antibiotic free. Our meat is from 100 percent grass-fed, free-range animals from family farms."
Elevation burgers are also halal. "I learned what halal means--it basically means humanely slaughtered. Anyone should appreciate that. I went to all the mosques in the area and handed out menus. And we stayed open later during Ramadan." And he points out that gluten-free and vegan meals can also be patched together here from the small but ingeniously versatile menu.
Certain that Elevation Burger is going to be a success, the Tayters have bought three nearby lots and will be building adjacent homes for their family and both sets of parents, who are, says Sarah, "insanely attached to their grandchildren."
Elevation Burger, 3365 Washtenaw, 585-0467. Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m. elevationburger.com
[Originally published in September, 2013.]