Local students and business owners team up for a tasty twist on burger-of-the-month specials

If you live in or around Morris, you may be familiar with The Fire Side restaurant and their monthly “Burger of the Month” deal. The burger of the month is different every month, and $2.00 from each burger of the month sale goes towards a different charity. However, the month of May this year will look a little different.

This time around, CJ and Stacey Fromm, owners of The Fire Side, teamed up with Nissa Rose’s Global Foods class and Jenny Maras’ Advanced Marketing class from Morris Area High School to host the first annual “Burger Challenge,” in which three specialty burgers, developed and promoted by students, are part of the “May Burger of the Month.” The burger with the most sales will be added to the Fire Side menu for the upcoming year.

The idea came from a similar program in Alexandria between the Alexandria High School and the Pike and Pint restaurant, which, in turn, provided Maras and Rose with guidance and suggestions as they undertook this program.

The students from Rose’s Global Foods class got to work brainstorming ideas for new burger recipes. They eventually developed six recipes and invited the Fromms to taste-test them. The Fromms helped the students whittle the choices to three based on flavor, preparation, and sellability. The burgers ultimately decided upon were the Leaning Tower developed by Hayley Wulf, Isabelle Emmert, Angel Vazquez and Kaia Anderson, the Sweet and Spicy Siren developed by Isabelle Bontjes, Sarah Vargas and Zoey Thompson, and the Teriyaki Twist developed by Wyatt Mithun, Preston Hinrichs and Calvin White.

Developing the burgers was challenging, but students embraced the challenge and put their creative skills to work. Bontjes said coming up with different ideas was a challenge, but sought inspiration from the Mango Habanero sauce that The Fire Side already had and built a burger around those flavors. Mithun took inspiration from his dad who uses Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki, and onion while cooking. Wulf said she liked the idea of using balsamic on a burger and decided to build it around that concept.

While coming up with burger ideas, the students had to consider that people of all ages and taste preferences would be potential customers for the burgers. Mithun said that even though many teens and younger ages might not like mushrooms, many people who visit the Fire Side do like mushrooms. 

The students then visited the Fire Side restaurant to cook and prepare the burgers, and students from Maras’ Advanced Marketing class photographed the burgers for promotional material. Rowan Anderson, Cowan Mortenson and several other students in Maras’ marketing class worked to take exceptional photographs of their assigned burgers to make them look their absolute best. 

Anderson said finding a golden angle was key, and getting the lighting right was also instrumental in getting the best shot. 

Using a blow torch to melt the cheese just right, and even lighting the small “Fire Side” flag that adorns each burger, helped to capture unique and memorable images of the burgers. 

The students found that staging around the burger was just as important as the actual burger when trying to get the best picture. Spilling a small jar of sauce next to the burger, and putting fresh tomatoes behind them proved to be nice finishing touches to accentuate the burgers. Kaia Anderson said that she particularly enjoyed this part and seeing all the aspects that can go into food photography.

Other students in the marketing class worked on posters, radio ads, newspaper ads, social media campaigns, and getting information to fellow students. 

Bontjes said that everyone working together to make this whole project happen was a cool experience, and Kaia Anderson and Wulf both enjoyed seeing how a restaurant kitchen functions.

Mithun said it was interesting to see how quickly Stacey Fromm accomplished cooking tasks, like carmelizing onions and mushrooms, while it took students much longer. 

Maras said that the students showed a lot of pride in their work, giving an example of students working on social media who noticed that the pictures they were using didn’t completely match, so they went the extra mile and made sure they were edited to all flow together cohesively. 

This project was an opportunity for students to engage with the various aspects of the food industry, from the first stages of brainstorming and developing recipes to the multiple steps of marketing and promotion, and how to work together with several people on all different teams to come up with a streamlined product. “This collaboration brings the curriculum to life, creating raw and authentic learning environments,” says Maras.

CJ Fromm added that he and Stacey feel it is an honor and a privilege to work with these classes on this project. 

Just like other burgers of the month, these three burgers developed by students will be on the menu at The Fire Side throughout the month of May, and $2.00 from each burger sale will be donated to Tiger Threads, a program that helps provide clothes to students in need. 

The three burgers that were not chosen from the original six will likely be featured as a “Burger of the Month,” later this year, Maras adds.

Maras and Rose hope to make this collaboration an annual event in their spring semester classes.