When I first arrived to Bangkok in 2011, there were very few options for a really good burger (the same could be said for pizza and Mexican food back then, too). But then in 2013 a little food truck parked itself on Sukhumvit Soi 38 (when that street was a Mecca for food fans) and completely transformed the Bangkok burger scene, and ushered in a new era for food trucks. Seemingly overnight through customer social media posts and food scene savvy media outlets, Daniel Thaiger (official Facebook page) had a city craving its burgers…and if you wanted one you could expect to wait for it. And you would wait for it. I mean, just look at it…
I recently had an opportunity to tour the production facility/delivery hub and learn a little from the co-founders about Daniel Thaiger’s past, present, and future. I learned a few things. This is their story from humble food truck beginnings to one of Bangkok’s most recognized burger brands.
Chatting with the co-founders…
From 2003-2011 California native, Mark, often found himself traveling back and forth from Los Angeles and Bangkok. After each trip he craved American style burgers. He was surprised that a city of Bangkok’s size and with such a large expat population there weren’t any options for a reasonably priced “gourmet” burger.
He also realized that the Bangkok food scene was also missing out on a craze that was sweeping across many major cities in the US and Europe: food trucks.These two observations sprung an idea that ignited his entrepreneurial spirit. Why not start up a food truck business that specializes in gourmet West Coast style burgers?
A dream on wheels…
Honey grew up with a family involved in the restaurant business and had been cooking since the age of 9. Living in California she also came to realize that burgers in Cali were different than what she’d been exposed to in Bangkok. They were better. Mark didn’t have a restaurant background, but felt burgers were in his blood. They were both committed to making their dream of good West Coast style burgers a reality in Bangkok.
In April of 2013, Mark and Honey relocated to Thailand from Los Angeles to pursue their dream of bringing West Coast style burgers to Bangkok. They spent 6 months sourcing and tasting/testing quality beef, bacon, cheese, buns, and local produce and creating their signature sauces, in September, 2013 they were ready to roll out their Daniel Thaiger burger truck (Daniel being the name of their eldest son).
Their first few appearances at the RCA night scene were a disappointment. After long days spent prepping the ingredients to roll out on the truck and a long night of manning the grill, at the end of the evening the tally of burgers sold would be 14. But though disappointing, they both knew that what they were offering was great burger at a great value, and that it’d be just a matter of time before folks realized that, too. That’s just what happened in October, 2013, the moment when Bangkok suddenly got Daniel Thaiger burger fever.
The truck was moved to Sukhumvit Soi 38, at the time a bustling night time food scene (that is sorely missed by those who knew it). On October 3, 2013 their burgers received media coverage from Coconuts Bangkok encouraging folks to “Track down the Daniel Thaiger food truck for some greasy goodness“. After the article release they discovered the Daniel Thaiger Facebook page had hundreds of new followers. Business was about to pick up.
After the word was out the sales slump immediately reversed. They first sold out at 70 burgers, then after increasing their production to the maximum amount of burgers the truck could carry they were selling out every night at 220 burgers. After 6 months of grinding and grilling to satisfy the burger craving masses, Mark and Honey were able to hire additional staff. Knowing the demand was more then their limited production capabilities could handle, they wisely reinvested their profits into a second, larger food truck.
The success of Daniel Thaiger as a brand wasn’t built on gimmicks. It was built on one premise–make a good burger using the best possible ingredients at a fair price and people will want to eat it. Their obsession to source the best possible ingredients in Bangkok has resulted in a damned good burger.
Good Ingredients = Good Burgers
Many things have changed since Daniel Thaiger’s beginning days. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the quality of the ingredients they use for the burgers they make. The signature soft brioche bun is baked daily by Conkey’s Bakery. The thick lean slices of smoky bacon are sourced by Sloane’s. California cheddar cheese is hand cut into thick slices from blocks daily. They make a point to not melt the cheese on the burger so that customers get the full flavor and texture of the cheese.
Ground fresh daily!
Daniel Thaiger grinds through a staggering 2 tons of protein (beef, pork, lamb, and salmon) per month!
Due to variations in supply, the beef patty has gone through a few versions. Of course each new version has been tasted and tested repeatedly until they’re happy with it. The current version of their beef patties consists of a blend of Australian wagyu and American beef. The meaty flavor from the lean American beef blends well with the marbly Australian wagyu beef. They are unseasoned before cooking then lightly dusted with salt and pepper on the grill. As burgers should be.
Daniel Thaiger offers 2 different beef burgers. The “Mr. Steve” is your traditional bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions, lettuce, and their special “Thaiger” sauce. The other burger is my personal favorite, the “Cowboy“, a double bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions, pickled jalapeño slices, and their in house made BBQ Sauce.
For a real treat you can upgrade the patties in either burger to lamb. The lamb patties are prepared daily by grounding fresh lamb shoulder meat. Unlike the beef patties, the lamb patties are seasoned lightly with cumin and other Middle Eastern spices before grilling. It’s not “gamey” at all, rather the lamb taste is quite mild. It’s worth the upgrade.
A Pescatarian Option
If you’re averse to red meat, or looking to boost your Omega-3 intake, their “Salmon Burger” is for you. It’s made with a salmon patty seasoned on the grill with salt and pepper, feta cheese chunks, tomatoes, lettuce, and a dill yoghurt sauce that really complements the salmon. Honestly, it doesn’t scratch my itch for a beefy burger, but it is a damned good sandwich.
Just like the beef and lamb patties, the salmon patties are made fresh daily. Daniel Thaiger hand chops long filets of Atlantic salmon when making their patties.
For me a burger is enough. But if dining amongst friends, or if you’ve got a few extra notches in your belt you want to climb to, an “Animal Style” order of bacon cheese fries may be of interest to you.
Upgrading your fries to “Animal Style” is a messy but delicious process. First the fries are drenched in Thaiger sauce, then loaded with a generous helping of California Cheddar cheese and crispy bacon. For fans of the West Coast burger joint In-N-Out, this will bring back calorie laden memories.
New to the Daniel Thaiger menu is their “Jalapeño Popper” side. For delivery they have an upgrade option to exchange fries with these poppers. Do it. The exterior is perfectly crispy, with a mildly spicy jalapeño chili filled with cream cheese.
Growing the Daniel Thaiger brand…
Daniel Thaiger’s growth as a brand was built slowly but steadily. Mark and Honey were wise to ensure that portions of their profit was reinvested in the growth of the company, rather than taking on debt or investors to grow the brand. In September, 2016 their first fixed grill kiosk was located with Brew Beer and Ciders on Sukhumvit Soi 11. The symbiotic relationship provided customers with exactly what they wanted: a great burger and an ice cold brew to enjoy it with. The success of this venture, led to them establishing another outlet in May, 2018 at The Commons on Thonglor Soi 17.
At the same time that they were establishing themselves on Sukhumvit Soi 11, they were also opening their first brick-and-mortar full service restaurant called Crying Thaiger on Sukhumvit Soi 51. The restaurant specialized in unique burgers, tomahawk steaks, and handcrafted cocktails. Their “Taco Tuesday” events were a huge hit. It gave Mark a space to be creative with the menu–bringing more Americana foodie favorites to patrons. Unfortunately, though a successful venue, they were forced to shutter their operations due to zoning issues in December 2017. It was an expensive lesson to learn but some of the best lessons in life aren’t cheap.
It got them thinking about other ways to build the Daniel Thaiger brand.
The future is delivery…
Restaurants are at the mercy of Bangkok’s weather whims that often make it undesirable for folks to go out to eat. Be it rain, balmy heat, or lately smog, there are many days where folks just want to get home and have a delivery service bring dinner to them. Mark realized this, and reacted to it.
Why build a large restaurant kitchen at each outlet that’s located in the most expensive areas of Bangkok if you can establish a full service production kitchen in an area with cheaper rents? So in December, 2017 they rented a small house off of Soi Phetchaburi 47 that had previously been used as a bakery. The large kitchen provides plenty of space for prepping the ingredients needed daily for the 2 food trucks and each Daniel Thaiger outlet. It is also where all of the burgers for all of the Foodpanda orders are cooked fresh for delivery.
There is some limited seating inside and out for walk-in diners. But unlike the other Daniel Thaiger outlets, don’t expect the staff to be at your beck and call. It’s no frills service. Tell them what you want and they’ll bring it to you. It’s more like a neighborhood burger joint–not a hangout scene.
But if you live in the neighborhood it’s certainly worth stopping by!
When I spoke with Mark he told me that the burger truck is what launched the Daniel Thaiger brand, and that it would always play a part in spreading the brand through catering events and its current street scene schedule at Sathorn Square for lunch on Wednesdays and Sukhumvit Soi 30/1 for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays.
But the future growth of the Daniel Thaiger brand lies in opening new distribution/production kitchens in Bangkok to service delivery requests. They are currently eyeing the Silom area for future expansion. This is my hood. I hope they’ll have a no frills walk-in dining option!
More than a brand…
Daniel Thaiger has certainly come a long way from the humble beginnings of their small food truck. A solid West Coast style burger and Honey, the “face” of Daniel Thaiger’s brand, cheerfully responding to social media posts and meeting greeting customers with her warm smile have built a cult following of burger lovers in Bangkok. I would argue that they’ve built more than a burger brand in Bangkok. They’ve built a burger baseline. Unlike the early days of Bangkok there are now many burger options to choose from, and new burger joints and trucks opening all the time. But if you ask a burger enthusiast in Bangkok about a new burger joint odds are you’ll ask them, “How does it compare to Daniel Thaiger?“