Tokyo is home to one of the best dining scenes on earth. This is the city that not only hosts the most Michelin starred restaurants in the world, but also boasts so many high-quality casual and comfort food eateries that visitors and residents face decision paralysis every time they feel hungry.

It’s no surprise then that the proliferation of quality U.S.-style independent hamburger joints over the past two decades often goes unnoticed and unspoken of. For those in the know however, Tokyo’s burger scene is truly special. Restaurants like Blackcows in Ebisu and Coaster in Shimokitazawa serve up outstanding burgers as well as chill atmospheres, making them the perfect places to hang with friends and enjoy great food and some craft beers.

Perhaps the most influential and well-loved of the independent burger places is The Great Burger, a veritable institution amongst Tokyo’s residents. The Harajuku-based restaurant without a doubt serves some of the most authentic west-coast style burgers in the city, and as such is well-loved by locals as well as the international community.

Photo by Toby M

In spite of its enduring popularity, however, The Great Burger has fallen on hard times during the COVID-19 pandemic. The once perennial queue of customers that lined the front of the store had dwindled as Tokyo’s state of emergency has dragged on (intermittently) for almost one year.

At the start of this year (2021), owner and chef Atsushi Kurumata created a page on Japanese crowdfunding website Campfire, divulging the restaurant's plight and turning to public donations to help keep their doors open. Although the target amount of 10 million JPY, or $100,000 USD, has just been reached at the time of writing, there are still 12 days until the crowdfunding window closes on March 20th, 2021. The team at grape Japan owe fond memories and satisfied stomachs to The Great Burger, so we want to do our bit and help keep this Tokyo institution alive by publishing their story in English.

The Great Burger’s great Campfire campaign

The restaurant’s Campfire page was set up late in January, seeking to earn a total of 10 million JPY by March 20th, 2021.

As the Campfire page explains, The Great Burger has lost over half its regular custom since the first state of emergency was declared last year in April. Even with the support of government subsidies, the restaurant has been making monthly losses. When the second state of emergency was declared on January 8th, 2021, owner Mr. Kurumata knew he needed to do something more to keep the lights of his struggling business on.

Turning to crowdfunding, he created a Campfire pageto raise money he intends to use mainly for paying restaurant staff as first priority.

Photo by Toby M

According to the Campfire page Mr. Kurumata’s team, many of whom have dreams to open their own restaurants one day, are the bread and butter that make The Great Burger possible. He will do whatever it takes to continue to support their livelihoods while helping them to develop key skills for the restaurant industry.

Options to back the restaurant on Campfire start at a ¥2000 donation, and go all the way up to ¥1.5 million. Each donation option includes a return, so anyone investing ¥2000 will receive a set of special Great Burger stickers designed by popular Tokyo-based artist CHALKBOY for example. Larger donations of ¥10,000 or ¥30,000 can receive discount coupons to be used in The Great Burger and its sister eateries. Donors willing to pay upwards of ¥600,000 can enjoy a 7 day trip to LA with Mr. Kurumata himself as soon as global travel restrictions are relaxed.

For a full list of backing options, check out The Great Burger Campfire page here.

On Campfire, Mr. Kurumata expresses his belief in the power of The Great Burger to bring joy to people's lives through great food and a relaxed ambiance conducive to good times. For the past 13 years, the restaurant has been achieving this vision, serving up the authentic tastes of west coast cooking to locals, or a taste of home for many of the international community. A few more donations is all that is required to inoculate the restaurant against the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the food industry, and hopefully keep Tokyo’s bastion of burgers going strong for years to come.

About the Great Burger

The Great Burger first opened in 2007. As its audacious name implies, it has been serving some truly great burgers ever since. The food, as well as the US diner-like, quirkily furnished interior, have proved hugely popular with customers who have flocked to the restaurant in droves.

The Great Burgers

Photo by Toby M

The Great Burger uses the highest quality ingredients to craft their sandwiches. Super coarsely ground beef is used to create the soft, juicy patties, and only fresh vegetables are used for the toppings. Finally, brown buns enriched with natural yeast and developed by Mr. Kurumata himself provide the soft and wholesome foundation for the burgers.

The Great interior design

The interior of the restaurant is also a part of enjoying a meal at The Great Burger. Brightly lit and wood furnished, the restaurant looks like it has been airlifted from the streets of San Francisco. American flags, quirky art, and vintage ornaments like a working old-school revolving dial telephone add to the restaurant's authentic feel. Like the atmosphere, the kitchen is open, allowing customers to watch the chefs cook their food fresh.

The Great inspiration

Mr. Kurumata was influenced by Hollywood movies like Back to the Future as a kid, and having spent time living on the West Coast, he wanted to share what he felt was truly special about US hamburger joints by bringing an authentic location to Tokyo.

He opened The Great Burger at the tender age of 24, and through many mistakes and the support of his team, he has turned the restaurant into a thriving success. So much so that he has been able to open various associated restaurants including The Little Bakery Tokyo and Good Town Donuts, popular U.S.-style bakeries that offer some of the city’s few quality vegan-friendly sweets.

Mr. Kurumata’s success has brought much joy to fans of American food in Tokyo, no doubt creating many news fans along the way. The spread of COVID-19 has not been easy however and now his flagship store hangs in the balance. Although the campaign has just achieved the target at the time of writing, they need all the support they can get, so with 12 days remaining, we encourage fans of The Great Burger to chip in today so those delicious, shoestring chips can be enjoyed tomorrow.

The Great Burger Campfire page

By - Toby M.