Umami Burger has big plans for the D.C. market

April 22, 2013

When Adam Fleischman opened an Umami Burger in Laguna Beach, Calif., the founder and CEO of the ferociously ambitious chain decided to add a small, personal touch to the location. Fleischman and his wife Shanna, a fellow Marylander like her spouse, installed a painting of one of their favorite childhood haunts: the Ocean City, Md., boardwalk.

The Umami Burger location in Laguna Beach, Calif., pays homage to the founder's childhood playground in Maryland.
The Umami Burger location in Laguna Beach, Calif., pays homage to the founder's childhood playground in Maryland. (Umami Burger)

You could argue the painting was Fleischman's attempt to keep a piece of his past near his present home in Southern California until he could make his way back to the Washington, where he grew up.

An Umami Burger topped with oxtail ragu could someday become widely available in D.C. (Via Flickr user queenkv under a Creative Commons license).
Could an Umami Burger topped with oxtail ragu be in your future? (Via Flickr user queenkv under a Creative Commons license).

A native of Silver Spring, Fleischman graduated from the University of Maryland with a liberal arts degree. Shanna Fleischman, originally from Baltimore, is also a Maryland grad, and together the couple has been itching to bring the chain's cleverly engineered burger to their old stomping ground. The original Umami Burger, unlike anything available in D.C., is packed with those mysterious amino acids that add their own flavors while somehow enhancing and deepening those around them. Think of umami as the Steve Nash of ingredients.

Adam Fleischman just didn't want to rush headlong into introducing his gourmet chain to Washington, even if he opened his first Umami Burger in Los Angeles four years ago.

"We knew we’d get there when the time is right," says the Umami founder, a noted perfectionist. "We wanted to bring it to D.C. when it was ready to shine, not as an experiment.”

To that end, Fleischman and his team are working with John Asadoorian, the same real estate broker that has turned Sweetgreen into a sustainability juggernaut, with locations in three states and the District of Columbia. Team Umami has already been scouting locations for its first D.C. restaurant, but has yet to sign a lease.

Fleischman says he ultimately plans to turn D.C. into an Umami Burger "hub," with at least five locations in the metro area so the chain can take advantage of bulk purchasing. What's more, because Umami Burger produces its own Portuguese-style rolls for every burger, Fleischman says it makes more sense to bake them for multiple outlets, not just one.

The founder hopes to scatter his Umami locations equally among the District proper and the suburbs. But, Fleischman says, "it will start in D.C., and it will fan out from there."

Once Fleischman does start constructing Umami locations in D.C., he plans to follow the company's standard procedure and create unique personalities for each outlet, much like the one in Laguna Beach, which his wife designed. What are his interior plans for the hometown market?

"I haven’t given that much thought," Fleischman says, "but since it’s my hometown, I’m sure it will come from a very unique angle.”

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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