The things that keep George Formaro awake at night are recipes. “I have nightmares about bad food,” Formaro said while sitting in his renowned French restaurant, Django.
To ease his own mind he watches zombies gorge on other peoples’ brains. A lifelong fan of horror films, the local chef has stitched together a Frankenstein’s monster out of his love of scary movies and his love of fine dining.
In a little more than a year of business, Formaro’s Zombie Burger has served 320,000 burgers to 350,000 customers. It’s become a must-stop-at restaurant for diners and zombie fans and was recently filmed for Destination America’s “United States of Food.”
“Are you insane?” That’s the reaction Formaro heard more than once when he discussed his idea for a restaurant decorated with rotten corpses. But things started coming together just as the zombie phenomenon started to hit its zeitgeist in the form of the incredibly popular TV series “The Walking Dead.”
“Everything we do is so serious, this just sounded cool,” Formaro said. “I had to wonder if it would be mainstream enough to sustain a business. I had a gut feeling that if I nailed the burger that would ultimately be what people come back for. If it was just a kitschy concept, it wouldn’t be sustainable.”
While some of the food combinations sound crazy, they also require a lot of work to get them right. There are a number of programs set up to teach chefs how do make fine French cuisine; courses on how to fry ranch dressing aren’t as common. Formaro describes working at Zombie Burger as being as crazy and as complicated as any of his other kitchens, plus it serves a higher volume of diners.
But Formaro also says the days he works at Zombie Burger are some of his favorite shifts of the week. He loves seeing clientele who might not go out to Centro or Django stop into his restaurant. Zombie Burger also has proven unexpectedly popular with children, leading the restaurant to put together a children’s menu.
As a child Formaro collected horror magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria. His mother threw them away years ago, but last month Formaro got to live a childhood dream when Zombie Burger was featured in Rue Morgue. Some chefs dream of appearing in Bon Appetit and Gourmet Magazine. For Formaro the dream was having his restaurant featured alongside articles like “Cinema Apocalyptica” and an interview with the director of “Halloween III.”
“When I was a kid I never in a million years thought I would be in a monster magazine,” Formaro said. “That’s been the highlight for me.”
Despite the crazy ingredients you can pile on at Zombie Burger, Formaro said there is a simplicity to the burger itself that keeps people coming back.
“You can make a great meal with a lot of ingredients, but if you can make a great cheese pizza or a great burger, I think you have something,” Formaro said. “It’s the food your soul craves.”
Zombie Burger + Drink Lab
Where: 300 E. Grand Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday