Modern. Hip. Innovative. Not exactly words you think of to describe your typical burger joint. Of course, Urban Stack in Chattanooga's Southside is anything but typical.
Its low-slung brick profile has an almost gritty, downtown vibe - much like the back-alley clubs
of Los Angeles whose location is only known to insiders. Instead of troubled Hollywood starlets
inside, Urban Stack's clientele ranges from groups of fashionable 20-somethings sipping whiskey to the diaper-bag-and-high-chair set, savoring a pale ale while Junior's cries are drowned out by the noisy din.
This eclectic gathering of burger enthusiasts is exactly what husband-and-wife team Taylor and Mike Monen envisioned when designing their upscale eatery.
"We felt like Chattanooga needed this kind of concept - it didn't really exist," says Mike. "We're all about trying to fill those kinds of niches."
The concept behind Urban Stack is as layered and complex as the restaurant's 20-plus gourmet burgers. Its philosophy is both simple (burgers and bourbon) and sophisticated (sustainably grown food with an eco-friendly operation).
The menu takes a foodist approach, featuring ingredients such as chipotle ketchup, bacon-onion compote and black-raspberry mayo. As the brainchild of both Taylor and Mike, it took the couple more than a year to plan.
"We're constantly thinking about food," explains Taylor. "We'll wake up in the middle of the night and jot down ideas."
Several late-night scribbles later, the restaurant boasts such varied tastes as the Good Day, Sunshine, which is topped with bacon, fried egg and white cheddar, and the Asian Q featuring Waygu beef topped with Asian ginger barbecue sauce, wasabi slaw, and homemade cucumber kimchee.
And while beef reigns supreme at this hopping joint, herbivores can enjoy the Vegan on Shrooms, a mushroom patty topped with roasted red peppers, balsamic onions and vegan garlic mayo. Also, any patty can be switched out for organic, free-range chicken.
Housed in one of the oldest buildings in the city, exposed light bulbs cast a warm glow on the brick walls and concrete floor. When designing the build-out, Taylor and Mike were careful to pay homage to the past while foraging ahead to the future. The black, ladder-back booths - constructed from lumber found in a 19th century mill - are upholstered with moss-green recycled leather. Suspended above the sleek, black tables are salvaged light fixtures which once hung above production lines in factories.
Hoping to become one of the city's first LEED-certified restaurants, the kitchen is fitted with Energy Star appliances and the HVAC system was upgraded to a green unit. Everything in the kitchen is made from scratch, drastically reducing packaging and the restaurant only works with farms practicing sustainable agriculture, buying locally whenever possible. Food scraps are composted and glass and aluminum are recycled - an important point considering the weekend consumption at the jam-packed bar.
"We've been in the restaurant business a long time and see how much impact one restaurant can have on the environment," says Taylor.
In fact, the couple met in college while working as hostess and dishwasher at Sticky Fingers, a franchise Mike would later purchase with several friends. Several years after selling, Mike and Taylor opened their first joint venture as a couple, Taco Mamacita, which has enjoyed phenomenal success since opening in 2008. Today the couple's Red Bull-fueled days are spent ping-ponging between their latest project and home, where they're parents to Lily, 5, and Simon, 2.
Menu By the Numbers:
14 Classic Burgers8 Specialty Burgers6 Local Food Sources12 Specialty Cocktails12 Yummy Sides
In addition to pulling 15-hour shifts during the weekend rush at Urban Stack, Taylor and Mike must oversee the construction of their third Taco Mamacita location, slated to open this summer in Charleston. Remarkably, the dynamic duo seems almost unfazed by their breakneck speed. Of course, they acknowledge the intensity is short term.
"We have an amazing team of people that really help make it happen," says Taylor. "We put a lot of energy into training our managers and staff so that in the next few months we won't have to be here 24/7."
And that might be their smartest move in sustainability yet.