By Simon Yau
My stomach might be racist. I’m not certain yet, but I arrived at this concern when I asked myself an honest question—is The Burger's Priest weird?
I mean, they serve burgers. That in itself is not weird. But it’s also a Christian-themed restaurant, with Christian-themed menu items, a Christian name, Christian scripture written on the wall and a strict Sunday policy that closes the joint down so the owners can ostensibly go to church.
Whenever I’m standing in one of the Priest’s notoriously long queues, staring at the church collection pan that serves as a tip container, reading bible verses on the wall, then eventually ordering a Noah’s Ark, it all seems like a mild novelty that I can tune out. But this place isn’t being ironic. It’s actually owned by evangelical Christians.
Which is fine!
Alls I wonder is how much my willingness to turn a blind-eye to overt meal/religion line-blurring has to do with tasty burgers, and how much has to do with my varying levels of cultural acceptance and comfort regarding race and religion.
The most obvious thought exercise would be to imagine a burger place with another religion as a theme. So let’s close our eyes and think real hard about other potential religious fast food joints and whether they’d be quite as lauded at the Priest.
I know, Buddha Dog exists already, and is relatively successful. In general, I think our culture finds Buddhism and anything zen or exotically east Asian quite acceptable. Buddhists are harmless. Like they're literally non-violent, aren’t they? Even if the place was overtly trying to market Buddhism to you, it’d be acceptable because they’d be totally chill about it. Also, the decor of this place would be amazingly Pier One chic.
Verdict: Guaranteed smash amongst the vegan crowd. Less mainstream foodie appeal. The hot dog dudes need to get on this already.
No bacon. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a Jewish themed burger. This might be kind of an issue with hamburger snobs. On the other hand, I personally find Kosher beef to be tastier than its unclean comparable. Maybe it’s all in my head but whatever.
Here the religious aspects start to get dicey though. Sure, we go to Jewish delis but they aren’t trying to impose religion on us—these are just places owned by members of the Jewish community. How amenable I might be of an establishment that had all the information about how to ritually convert to Judaism painted on the wall really depends —mostly on if that information is presented in an entertaining manner. Comic book form? No problem!
The decor may also be an issue. Reclaimed church pews and collection plates are kind of trendy for some reason, while antique menorahs may never be Globe Life cool. Strange, how that is.
Verdict: Decent chance of success. It might depend on how tongue-in-cheek the theme is executed, but I’m assuming we’re playing things relatively straight here. It also seems slightly more exotic to people who know what a priest is, but what the hell is a gabbai? Finally, would unfamiliarity with religious iconography make the decor less palatable to customers despite equally tasty food?
Ok, lets just be honest. If a dude from my local mosque opened a burger shop that was Islamic themed, featuring religious iconography in the interior design and had scriptures from the Qur’an on the wall, I would probably find it weird. I don’t know a whole lot about Islam. It isn’t something I think most people know about unless you make a point to know about it, unlike Christianity which is entrenched as part of North America’s cultural fabric.
Also, I’d be like—why did you open a burger joint? That might be an ignorant question, but also one I don’t think would require a lot of defending.
Inevitably, this place would get labelled a “Middle Eastern Burger Place” even if they served normal burgers. Like “Lebanese Pizza”. Which I learned is often, in Toronto at least, just cheap regular pizza.
Verdict: Outlook uncertain. Good food is good food, so hipsters would love this place. It would quite literally be the anti-Burger's Priest. Midtown families may not be as enthusiastic. I don't know what that says about midtown families or my completely arbitrary opinions of them, but that's what I think. I’m also not convinced people would drive across the city to eat here, but it could become a pretty popular local joint.
So basically, no. No other religion could pull off what the Burger’s Priest does except MAYBE Buddhism. But those burgers would probably be terrible. Did I miss anything? I ran out of alliterative world religion restaurant names after three.
As for my original question: is the Burger’s Priest weird? Only inasmuch as most people don’t seem to find it weird at all. And if we’re being honest, isn’t that a little weird?
It doesn’t matter though, I probably won’t be back to the Priest for a while. Not because I find it offensive—I just really hate long lines.