From Finance To A Flat Top, This Burger Connoisseur Is Opening His Own Spot - Quick Telecast From Finance To A Flat Top, This Burger Connoisseur Is Opening His Own Spot - Quick Telecast From Finance To A Flat Top, This Burger Connoisseur Is Opening His Own Spot - Quick Telecast

From Finance To A Flat Top, This Burger Connoisseur Is Opening His Own Spot

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Burgers are the ultimate comfort food for so many people, including Mike Puma who in 2013 started Gotham Burger Social Club. A simple concept where a group of burger lovers would tour New York City on the hunt for the best burger. Almost exactly a decade later, Puma finds himself leaving a 28-year-long career on Wall Street to open his very own burger spot after he managed to build himself with a cult-like following of people obsessed with his smash burgers.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m part of the following as I’m a huge fan of these perfectly juicy, yet delightfully crispy, cheesy burgers. The first time I had the chance to try one of Puma’s famous Gotham Smash burgers (made in the style of an Oklahoma fried-onion burger with American cheese and onions grilled to perfection) was at South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2020, just before the pandemic began and it’s basically set the standard for every burger I’ve consumed ever since.

Over the last year, Puma’s found himself running pop-up after pop-up with lines wrapping full city blocks and those devouring his burgers saying it’s more than worth the sometimes 3-hour long wait. He hit that crucial point where he found himself less and less excited about going to the office, where by day he’d been a financial advisor for nearly three decades.

“I just wasn’t as fulfilled. My finance clients weren’t nearly as excited as the people I was feeding burgers to,” Puma shared. “There was a big difference in excitement from somebody eating my burger for under $10 to when I’d make someone money on Wall Street, you know, the response when I was working with clients is just never the same response as when somebody loves your food. The gratification from it and to see people’s faces light up. It never came close.”

After seeing Puma announce on his Instagram (where he has almost 200K followers) that he was leaving the corporate world and there was a brick and mortar burger spot in the works, I knew I had to catch up with him to get the details.

We chatted about how it all began, the decision to make burgers a full-time gig, and what to expect at this first restaurant location. Here’s how it went:

Amber Love Bond: I’ve known you for quite some time, and I’ve gotta be honest — I forgot that you still had a corporate job!

Mike Puma: Yeah! This will be 10 years in October since I started the Gotham Burger Social Club while working as a financial advisor. There was no “influencer” component then, I was just doing this for fun and out of pure joy. We never thought people would be following what we were doing. Back in 2013, terms like influencer didn’t exist. We were just posting what we were up to. If you told me back then that we’d be doing this interview right now? I would have told you that’s not going to happen.

ALB: How did GBSC get its start?

MP: I wanted to find the best burger in New York and one night I just posted on Facebook asking who wanted to do a burger tour? It was a fun way to get my friends together once a month and the response was immediate. Everyone wanted to do it. The first time we met up I think we had about 16 or 17 guys and I was like this is huge, but it will probably die down to like 2 guys just grabbing a beer and a burger in a few months and it never did. It only grew and so did our social presence, which presented other opportunities.

For the better part of the first few years it was just a group meeting once a month and writing a review on a burger. But as our following and presence grew, the opportunities came and one was from an animal rescue called Social Tees. They reached out and thought it would be fun if we did an event together where we made a burger and the proceeds went to the animals. And I was like, that’s great! Let’s do it! I’ve always loved the Oklahoma-style burger, so it was an early rendition of the burger I do now and that was really the jump start to where I am today. It led to more opportunities to basically cook for people—mostly all fundraisers at that time.

ALB: So the momentum was growing!

MP: Yeah, then the pandemic hit. But right before it, we did Cochon 555 which was such an ah-ha moment because in this room of all these superstar chefs, we had a crazy line. We were doing something right! Then around June 2020, bars and restaurants started reaching out to partner in pop-ups to help them keep their doors open. A couple of the spots happened to be in the Lower East Side, so I was able to keep my grill stored inside (because there was no indoor dining) and wheel it out and around when needed.

I was so limited in what I could do in the beginning. I didn’t have a truck or anything! I was depending on UberXLs to load my stuff and get my grill around. Sometimes they would see my grill unassembled and would cancel, and I’d have to find another one—but we made it happen. We were doing like three events a week and bringing a little bit of life (responsibly) back to NYC, which was ultimately a dead city at the time. We’d create these little pockets of life and fun.

People were waiting up to 3 hours for a burger and I was so worried they would be upset about it, but 99.9% of them said they would do it all over again and that it was totally worth it. So then we hit a point where we added another grill and more people behind them. We really tried to create a vibe with music and some excitement.

ALB: I love that! You really brought that joy to these burger lovers!

MP: Yeah! It was cool. But for the last 2.5 years or so I’ve been juggling both careers. Eventually you realize what you really enjoy doing. The pop up is a lot of work, a lot to coordinate, lots of heavy lifting. But whether we were cooking in 25 degree weather and freezing or 100 degree weather leaning over a hot grill, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was just so much fun. So obviously the next step was where do I go with this?

ALB: It’s time for a restaurant!

MP: I did consider doing both (jobs), but ultimately that’s what I decided. Financing and everything fell into place pretty easily. Now I’m getting a lot of questions about “Are you going to be cooking? Are you going to be running front of house? Are you going to be walking around the room?” And I’ve said, “yes, yes, and yes. And I’ll be cleaning the bathrooms, too.” You have to do it all to be successful and lead by example. I know being there and being the face of the brand is important because people are used to that and will be looking for it. We’re excited to see where it goes.

ALB: Are you staying in the Lower East Side area where you’ve kinda found a home with your pop ups?

MP: The first location will be in the Lower East Side, just because it makes sense. The neighborhood has been so good to us and we have a built-in audience. It just feels right. The second location will also be in New York, and then after that we’ll hopefully expand outside of New York. I’d rather grow well than to grow too fast.

ALB: Let’s talk about the menu! Obviously, the Gotham Smash will be on it, but what else can we expect to see?

MP: In the beginning we’re going to keep it pretty tight. So the Gotham Smash in a single, double, and triple form. We will also offer a plant-based version of the Gotham Smash—it works very very well and will give non-beef eaters the chance to have the same experience. We are going to do my ode to the bodega classic, but in a taco form: the chopped cheese. Called a Harlem Taco, it’s a chopped cheese taco with ​​Tapatío crema and some pickled jalapenos. When I make these, sometimes I like them better than my burger! They are amazing!

And then we will have sides like fried pickles, french fries, homemade onion rings, tater tots, and loaded tots. That will be the menu to start, plus beer and wine—with a full liquor bar hopefully by the end of the year. In the future the menu may include hotdogs, burgers of the month, and more. It’s always fun to experiment with different flavors and styles.

ALB: As a fellow corporate world escapee, I can’t tell you how happy I am for you with this new venture! There’s something truly special about a second career that you find accidentally through a passion that brings you such joy.

MP: I never saw myself leaving Wall Street, but this experience has meant so much to me. People think this is kind of an overnight thing, like “oh the pandemic, you’ve been cooking for two years.” No, I built this brand over 10 years. I was always excited to see where this could take me—especially as a brand built on social media. I really wanted to see where it naturally went. I didn’t exactly want to have to swim upstream, but was happy to let the current take me. And that’s what happened here. The current took me, the pandemic happened, and the restaurants reached out. It was kind of a long time coming, especially over the last year. There’s a joy that I get to experience when people take those first few bites that’s like nothing I get to experience when I’m sitting in the office behind a computer screen. While the decision wasn’t taken lightly, it was a pretty easy one to make.

For those wondering if the Gotham Smash will make its way back to Burger Bash in both Miami and New York City — it’s on his radar and I can’t wait. Gotham Burger Social Club plans to open its first brick and mortar location this Spring in New York City.



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Burgers are the ultimate comfort food for so many people, including Mike Puma who in 2013 started Gotham Burger Social Club. A simple concept where a group of burger lovers would tour New York City on the hunt for the best burger. Almost exactly a decade later, Puma finds himself leaving a 28-year-long career on Wall Street to open his very own burger spot after he managed to build himself with a cult-like following of people obsessed with his smash burgers.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m part of the following as I’m a huge fan of these perfectly juicy, yet delightfully crispy, cheesy burgers. The first time I had the chance to try one of Puma’s famous Gotham Smash burgers (made in the style of an Oklahoma fried-onion burger with American cheese and onions grilled to perfection) was at South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2020, just before the pandemic began and it’s basically set the standard for every burger I’ve consumed ever since.

Over the last year, Puma’s found himself running pop-up after pop-up with lines wrapping full city blocks and those devouring his burgers saying it’s more than worth the sometimes 3-hour long wait. He hit that crucial point where he found himself less and less excited about going to the office, where by day he’d been a financial advisor for nearly three decades.

“I just wasn’t as fulfilled. My finance clients weren’t nearly as excited as the people I was feeding burgers to,” Puma shared. “There was a big difference in excitement from somebody eating my burger for under $10 to when I’d make someone money on Wall Street, you know, the response when I was working with clients is just never the same response as when somebody loves your food. The gratification from it and to see people’s faces light up. It never came close.”

After seeing Puma announce on his Instagram (where he has almost 200K followers) that he was leaving the corporate world and there was a brick and mortar burger spot in the works, I knew I had to catch up with him to get the details.

We chatted about how it all began, the decision to make burgers a full-time gig, and what to expect at this first restaurant location. Here’s how it went:

Amber Love Bond: I’ve known you for quite some time, and I’ve gotta be honest — I forgot that you still had a corporate job!

Mike Puma: Yeah! This will be 10 years in October since I started the Gotham Burger Social Club while working as a financial advisor. There was no “influencer” component then, I was just doing this for fun and out of pure joy. We never thought people would be following what we were doing. Back in 2013, terms like influencer didn’t exist. We were just posting what we were up to. If you told me back then that we’d be doing this interview right now? I would have told you that’s not going to happen.

ALB: How did GBSC get its start?

MP: I wanted to find the best burger in New York and one night I just posted on Facebook asking who wanted to do a burger tour? It was a fun way to get my friends together once a month and the response was immediate. Everyone wanted to do it. The first time we met up I think we had about 16 or 17 guys and I was like this is huge, but it will probably die down to like 2 guys just grabbing a beer and a burger in a few months and it never did. It only grew and so did our social presence, which presented other opportunities.

For the better part of the first few years it was just a group meeting once a month and writing a review on a burger. But as our following and presence grew, the opportunities came and one was from an animal rescue called Social Tees. They reached out and thought it would be fun if we did an event together where we made a burger and the proceeds went to the animals. And I was like, that’s great! Let’s do it! I’ve always loved the Oklahoma-style burger, so it was an early rendition of the burger I do now and that was really the jump start to where I am today. It led to more opportunities to basically cook for people—mostly all fundraisers at that time.

ALB: So the momentum was growing!

MP: Yeah, then the pandemic hit. But right before it, we did Cochon 555 which was such an ah-ha moment because in this room of all these superstar chefs, we had a crazy line. We were doing something right! Then around June 2020, bars and restaurants started reaching out to partner in pop-ups to help them keep their doors open. A couple of the spots happened to be in the Lower East Side, so I was able to keep my grill stored inside (because there was no indoor dining) and wheel it out and around when needed.

I was so limited in what I could do in the beginning. I didn’t have a truck or anything! I was depending on UberXLs to load my stuff and get my grill around. Sometimes they would see my grill unassembled and would cancel, and I’d have to find another one—but we made it happen. We were doing like three events a week and bringing a little bit of life (responsibly) back to NYC, which was ultimately a dead city at the time. We’d create these little pockets of life and fun.

People were waiting up to 3 hours for a burger and I was so worried they would be upset about it, but 99.9% of them said they would do it all over again and that it was totally worth it. So then we hit a point where we added another grill and more people behind them. We really tried to create a vibe with music and some excitement.

ALB: I love that! You really brought that joy to these burger lovers!

MP: Yeah! It was cool. But for the last 2.5 years or so I’ve been juggling both careers. Eventually you realize what you really enjoy doing. The pop up is a lot of work, a lot to coordinate, lots of heavy lifting. But whether we were cooking in 25 degree weather and freezing or 100 degree weather leaning over a hot grill, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was just so much fun. So obviously the next step was where do I go with this?

ALB: It’s time for a restaurant!

MP: I did consider doing both (jobs), but ultimately that’s what I decided. Financing and everything fell into place pretty easily. Now I’m getting a lot of questions about “Are you going to be cooking? Are you going to be running front of house? Are you going to be walking around the room?” And I’ve said, “yes, yes, and yes. And I’ll be cleaning the bathrooms, too.” You have to do it all to be successful and lead by example. I know being there and being the face of the brand is important because people are used to that and will be looking for it. We’re excited to see where it goes.

ALB: Are you staying in the Lower East Side area where you’ve kinda found a home with your pop ups?

MP: The first location will be in the Lower East Side, just because it makes sense. The neighborhood has been so good to us and we have a built-in audience. It just feels right. The second location will also be in New York, and then after that we’ll hopefully expand outside of New York. I’d rather grow well than to grow too fast.

ALB: Let’s talk about the menu! Obviously, the Gotham Smash will be on it, but what else can we expect to see?

MP: In the beginning we’re going to keep it pretty tight. So the Gotham Smash in a single, double, and triple form. We will also offer a plant-based version of the Gotham Smash—it works very very well and will give non-beef eaters the chance to have the same experience. We are going to do my ode to the bodega classic, but in a taco form: the chopped cheese. Called a Harlem Taco, it’s a chopped cheese taco with ​​Tapatío crema and some pickled jalapenos. When I make these, sometimes I like them better than my burger! They are amazing!

And then we will have sides like fried pickles, french fries, homemade onion rings, tater tots, and loaded tots. That will be the menu to start, plus beer and wine—with a full liquor bar hopefully by the end of the year. In the future the menu may include hotdogs, burgers of the month, and more. It’s always fun to experiment with different flavors and styles.

ALB: As a fellow corporate world escapee, I can’t tell you how happy I am for you with this new venture! There’s something truly special about a second career that you find accidentally through a passion that brings you such joy.

MP: I never saw myself leaving Wall Street, but this experience has meant so much to me. People think this is kind of an overnight thing, like “oh the pandemic, you’ve been cooking for two years.” No, I built this brand over 10 years. I was always excited to see where this could take me—especially as a brand built on social media. I really wanted to see where it naturally went. I didn’t exactly want to have to swim upstream, but was happy to let the current take me. And that’s what happened here. The current took me, the pandemic happened, and the restaurants reached out. It was kind of a long time coming, especially over the last year. There’s a joy that I get to experience when people take those first few bites that’s like nothing I get to experience when I’m sitting in the office behind a computer screen. While the decision wasn’t taken lightly, it was a pretty easy one to make.

For those wondering if the Gotham Smash will make its way back to Burger Bash in both Miami and New York City — it’s on his radar and I can’t wait. Gotham Burger Social Club plans to open its first brick and mortar location this Spring in New York City.

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