MIDDLETON, NS - When John Bartlett answered the phone at the Capitol Pub at 4:20 p.m. Tuesday he thought he would be part of an on-air interview about Burger Wars, the increasingly popular Campaign for Kids fundraiser.
Turns out K-rock called to tell him Chef Michelle Friel’s ‘Capitol Double Down’ burger won the whole shooting match. It was a bit of subterfuge on the part of Burger Wars organizer Laura Churchill-Duke, but Bartlett didn’t mind. It was the perfect end to a month-long campaign that saw his Middleton pub sell 552 of the creations that won the people’s choice award for Most Outstanding Burger.
Wolfville’s Troy was second in the popular vote that took place online.
This year 44 restaurants from Windsor to Digby took part in the campaign that raises funds to address the overwhelming number of requests received by Family and Children’s Services of Kings County for assistance to families in crisis. Its aim is to lend a hand to families in need and put an end to child abuse.
“It's thrilling to see how well Burger Wars took off this year,” said Churchill-Duke. “Many restaurants, within the first two weeks were already surpassing the number of sales they had for the whole month the year before. Everyone was talking about Burger Wars.”
She said people were going in to restaurants, not asking for menus, but sitting down and ordering the Burger Wars burger, which shows a high level of awareness about the campaign and the interest in it.
That was the case at the Capitol even before the April 1 launch of the campaign when a group of farmers came in and ordered the Capitol Double Down burger in larger numbers.
“That was just prior to Burger Wars, but they were a group that had met here for about six months, every second week,” said Bartlett. “They were coming in for breakfast and lunch while they were having their meetings. For their last meeting, it was so close to Burger Wars that they came up with the idea of us doing the Burger Wars burger for them as a way to kick-start this. It was the last week in March and they came in and they ordered 37 burgers.”
Those farmers weren’t the only ones with Burger Wars fever.
“The community’s been very supportive of us since we bought this place, and the Burger Wars is no different,” said Bartlett. “This Burger Wars has grown in the last three years from when it started. Honestly, we’ve seen more people coming through the door that didn’t even want to look at the menu. They just said ‘I want the Burger Wars burger.’”
As part of the Burger Wars rules, all entries have to go on the participating establishment’s menu, and Bartlett said the Capitol Double Down will be officially featured on their menu May 14.
“I love hearing the stories of how people are getting groups of people together to go out to eat,” said Churchill-Duke. “They are spending time with friends and family they might not otherwise get to see that often. I love how restaurant owners are going around and trying the burgers at other restaurants. This is not to scope out the competition, but to support each other.”
But that’s not all that the campaign seems to have engendered.
“I love how the local restaurants are buying their supplies from local suppliers and farms, helping the economy as well,” she said. “One restaurant told me they ran out of beef and had to go up and down the Valley to try to source more high quality beef to keep being able to offer the Burger Wars entry.”
Restaurants, pub, and taprooms across the Valley were chipping in a bit more than the campaign called for.
“What we’ve done in previous years, and we’re going to do it this year as well, is one dollar from every burger goes to Campaign for Kids, but we believe it’s such a great campaign that we’ve also matched that ourselves,” said Bartlett. “It will be $1,104 that we will be giving to the Campaign for Kids.”
Last year’s winner, The Big Scoop Restaurant in Middleton, had their dollar-per-burger matched by local building supply store RONA last year and RONA was doing the same this year.
“I love everything about this campaign,” said Churchill-Duke.
Churchill-Duke said this year they did many Facebook live videos of their adventures, which were very popular. “It was amazing how many people wanted to go online to watch us eat burgers!”
This year the campaign also handed out passports so people could go from restaurant to restaurant and get a stamp for every Burger Wars burger they ate.
“There is still time to get in the passports,” she said. “We are collecting them until Friday, May 4, and for every five restaurants visited, you get one ballot towards a $400 gift certificate to the Quarterdeck. This really encouraged people to get out and get eating.”
Campaign sponsors this year were Waterbury Newton Law firm, K-rock, the Valley Journal Advertiser and syndicate papers, JR Mahoney in Sydney for donating a prize pack to the winning chef, and the Quarterdeck for the donation of the grand prize.
“For every burger sold, $1 goes to help kids in financial need in Kings County,” Churchill-Duke re-iterated. “We use that money for bursaries, funding for schools, winter coats and boots, food for kids at school, programming fees, lice kits, and so much more. This year we will be able to help so many more kids.”
Last year the campaign raised about $8,800 and the year before $5,500.
“This year we are hoping for $10,000,” she said. “The restaurants are still tallying the number of burgers sold, and hopefully by Friday we will have the grand total. We are thrilled about the results of this year. In our minds, everyone is a winner, especially the children.”
Burger Wars officially ended the last day of April, and when the last votes were in, organizers got some help with the math.
“We had 1,800 votes come in and did up the statistics to determine the people's choice award,” she said. “We sent the database, with the restaurant names removed, to a few local math teachers who independently analyzed the data, weighting for number of votes and scores.”
The result was the Captiol Pub as the Most Outstanding Burger with Troy in Wolfville as the runner up.
“We are thrilled with the results, and love how Capitol Pub has supported Burger Wars from the beginning,” she said. “Even though they are in Annapolis County, and the money stays in Kings County, their response was that ‘kids are kids.’ They do so much for the community -- from free Christmas dinners and other events. We love how they empower all their chefs to come up with a creation for a potential entry, inviting a panel of judges in February, to kick off the celebration.”
She said Troy's lamb burger was also outstanding.
“As the owner Wil Lang said, he was awfully proud of their burger, and they had a lot of fun creating it,” she said. “The mint sauce was to die for!”
And what about next year?
“We have had restaurants tell us they have already decided what they are doing next year,” she said. “We only see this campaign growing every year. Thank you to all our sponsors, prize donors, restaurants, and burger eaters. We couldn't have done this without you. Jill (Forse) and I look forward to next year.”