The owners of Aioli Gourmet Burgers saw their business decline more than 75% due to the COVID-19 pandemic, between the brick-and-mortar and food truck establishments.
So, they did what any entrepreneur would do—they opened another location.
Aioli Gourmet Burgers unveiled its third location, in the former Caveman Burgers at 7th Street and Bell Road in North Phoenix, Labor Day weekend.
“We weren’t looking to expand during COVID,” co-owner Kyle Hollenbeck said. “Our business is food trucks, catering and the restaurants. Really, we had to get creative during the pandemic. We were slated to do the LPGA, feeding 50,000 people. We had our trucks all booked. Then March 17, the world stopped.”
Aioli Burgers didn’t have a presence in the North Valley, and the building offer was “too good to be true,” Hollenbeck said.
“This was a turnkey location,” he added. “During this pandemic, we realized the things that stayed steady was our takeout and online ordering. The restaurants were staying busy even though they couldn’t dine in. This is the new norm. People want fast-casual. We jumped on it.
“The owners offered to help us with rent. It’s an established location in a busy shopping center. We said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We opened on Labor Day and only signed the lease in July. We weren’t necessarily looking to open that many locations.”
The Aioli Gourmet Burgers stores have the same premise: juicy burgers ($8 to $10) with aioli—roasted garlic aioli, chipotle aioli, white truffle aioli, basil garlic aioli, green chili aioli, black pepper aioli or thousand island aioli. Then, there’s the choice of protein—custom burger blend, chicken breast ($1.50 extra) or Beyond Burger ($2.50 extra).
“My favorite burger is the Italiano,” he said. “It’s like a caprese salad in a burger. It has fresh mozzarella, tomato, applewood smoked bacon and basil garlic aioli with balsamic reduction.”
To go with the burgers, the stores offer burrata caprese or Aioli wedge salads; warm pretzel bites, three-cheese mac and cheese bites, Aioli’s fry flight, elote or homemade spicy fried pickle wedges. The sides include golden French fries, sweet potato fries, signature loaded fries, roasted farm vegetables or beer-battered onion rings.
Twelve flavors of lemonade, along with milkshakes, floats and desserts, round out the menu.
In addition, Aioli Gourmet Burgers’ Seventh Street and Bell Road location features an art gallery showcasing a collection of works by award-winning Latino cartoonist John Carvajal. The collection includes Arizona-, food truck- and burger-inspired pieces. All of the art on display is available for purchase.
Open since 2013, Aioli Gourmet Burgers started as a single food truck, quickly growing with the addition of one more food truck each year since then. The original restaurant location opened in 2016 at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard, off the 51. That location has served as the brand’s home base for the past three and a half years.
Year-over-year, the brand has more than doubled in size and sales with several other food truck concepts introduced, including Modern Tortilla and Oak Wood-Fire Pizza. The restaurant group’s portfolio boasts seven food trucks, two taco carts and a pizza cart, specializing in catering private events, birthdays and weddings.
The culinary direction is led by chef Tommy D’Ambrosio, who was inspired by his grandmother; and having a huge Italian family, cooking and eating was a big part of his life.
D’Ambrosio attended Culinary Institute of America and completed an apprenticeship at The Greenbrier in West Virginia before returning to his hometown in Phoenix to open Aioli Gourmet Burgers. Tommy opened Aioli with two of his childhood friends, Hollenbeck and Michael Cartolano.
“Tommy and I worked for the My Big Fat Greek Restaurant,” he said. “He wanted to work in the kitchen. He went to the Culinary Institute of America, and I started doing sales for Yelp while they went public.
“I worked for Living Social. I was in the Daily Deals space. I was on the marketing side. Tommy was ready to move back here, and we took him to First Friday and said, ‘Look at what they’re doing here with food trucks. We could do this and make it really cool.’ That was in 2012 or 2013. He and his wife moved back here from working at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. He could have gone to any white linen, New York restaurant. Instead, we started up a food truck.”
The food truck business is picking up again, Hollenbeck said. The team is also looking at another location, perhaps in the East Valley.
“We keep getting asked to open in the East Valley,” Hollenbeck said. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”