The game changers: Adam Fleischman

The game changers: Adam Fleischman

Umami Burger founder aims to take better-burger segment by storm

This story is part of an online preview of "The NRN 50: Game Changers.” In this special report, NRN highlights some of the people, ideas, technologies, concepts and trends pushing the restaurant industry in new directions. The full report is available exclusively in the January 23 issue. Subscribe [3] to Nation’s Restaurant News.

Adam Fleischman, the creator of Umami Burger, founded the chain only three years ago. Yet his burgeoning empire already includes the wildly popular multiunit concept, a successful one-off casual-dining restaurant and a brand new pizza operation.

And while his company’s accelerated growth pace has attracted industry attention, observers also identify Fleischman as being one of Los Angeles’ hottest restaurateurs — and one who has a knack for knowing what the consumer wants.

Sam Nazarian, chief executive of SBE Entertainment Group, a 50-percent partner helping to fund Umami Restaurant Group’s expansion, calls Fleischman an industry visionary, noting that Umami Burger has become an “authentic piece of pop culture.”

Umami’s expansion so far has been limited to California, but Nazarian is confident that the concept will resonate with customers in the rest of the United States. 

“The growth potential for the brand is undeniable, and we’re eager to showcase Umami with burger lovers nationwide,” he said.

It all began with Fleischman’s discovery of umami, a Japanese-coined term for the savory “fifth taste” induced by the amino acid glutamate and ribonucleotides found in certain foods. His fascination with the flavor led him to create Umami Burger, a casual-dining chain focused on enhancing umami in the all-American hamburger with ingredients like truffles, anchovies, tomatoes, soy, Parmesan and shiitake mushrooms. 

The first Umami Burger opened in Los Angeles in 2009, and since then, Fleischman has stepped up the pace. 

Now with seven units, Fleischman plans to spin the chain into two new concepts early this year. The first is a fast-casual version called U-ko in Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood, and the second is 170-seat UMAMIcatessan, a multiconcept space in downtown Los Angeles that will include an expanded version of Umami Burger; Fleischman’s kosher-style deli, The Cure; San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino’s PIGG; and spaces for guest chefs to operate “pop up” restaurants. 

In addition, Fleischman’s Umami Restaurant Group backs Red Medicine, the Beverly Hills, Calif., casual restaurant that gained notoriety last year after it publicly unmasked L.A. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. It also owns 800°, a Neapolitan pizza restaurant that Fleischman opened Jan. 2 in Westwood. 

The June infusion of capital from SBE means Umami Restaurant Group won’t be slowing its roll anytime soon. The main growth vehicles will be Umami Burger and U-ko, which Fleischman described as “my version of 21st century fast food.” 

Both concepts include at-table iPads for ordering, units built entirely from sustainable and recycled materials, and in-house meat grinding and cheese processing.

Fleischman last year said he expects to open as many as 10 Umami Burgers annually over the next three years. 

Contact Vanessa Van Landingham at [email protected] [4].