Bad Ass Ladies of the Burgerverse

Steph Vitori of Cheeseburger Baby Food Truck
PIKADIYO Restaurant 468 x 60

Normally when you hear about a burger restaurant’s ownership, the wife or female business partner is portrayed to have a secondary role. I also find that media (print, tv, online) hasn’t done a good job of highlighting female or fronted businesses without making it all gimmicky.

These four badass ladies of the burgerverse are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re in your town and making your favorite burgers in the way only a driven burger architect can, delicious.

STEPHANIE VITORI

Cheeseburger Baby

1505 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida

Steph Vitori of Cheeseburger Baby
Steph Vitori of Cheeseburger Baby

Steph Vitori is the force of nature behind South Beach’s Cheeseburger Baby. For over 20 years, The Baby has been South Florida folks’ go-to burger joint on Miami Beach.

I met Steph in 2011 and was taken aback by how passionate she was about Cheeseburger Baby’s place in Miami’s then-burgeoning food scene. After that, she made a believer out of me.

Right around that time, Five Guys Burgers tried to buy out their business, and when she turned them away, they decided up right across the street from her. However, she didn’t sweat their “threat” and turned it into a marketing opportunity by selling “It Shouldn’t Take 5 Guys To Make A Cheeseburger Baby!” t-shirts.

Genius.

Cheeseburger Baby Baby Cheeseburger - Miami Beach, Florida
Cheeseburger Baby Baby Cheeseburger – R.I.P.

Cheeseburger Baby First-timers need to eat the Bacon Cheeseburger with applewood-smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. It’s a great start, and from there, you might want to graduate to Baby’s Favorite, which adds a fried egg to the equation.

MERCY GONZALEZ

El Rey de las Fritas

1821 SW 8th Street
Little Havana, Florida

Mercy Gonzalez of El Rey de las Fritas
Mercy Gonzalez of El Rey de las Fritas

Mercy’s father, Benito Gonzalez, founded El Rey de las Fritas in the late 1970s. However, he was no Frita newbie; he was a Fritero (frita cart proprietor) in Placetas, Cuba (the Frita motherland).

Since her dad’s untimely passing in 2005, Mercy has taken the reigns of the family business. El Rey de las Fritas mini-burger chain (Hialeah, Little Havana, Sweetwater & Westchester restaurant locations) continues to operate with the same hard-working values that her pop instilled in her.

You will find her mostly at their Flagler location in Sweetwater, where if you’re lucky enough, she will make you a Frita Original with lots of love.

La Frita Cubana from El Rey de las Fritas
La Frita Cubana Original con Queso from El Rey de las Fritas

El Rey de las Fritas first-timers need to get their bearings by eating La Frita Original, a classic Frita Cubana with onions and julienne potatoes on a Cuban roll. Once you know what you’re in for, then try a Doble (double), an A Caballo (with a fried egg), or if you’re feeling frisky, a Doble A Caballo con Queso (with cheese).

BETH & LENORE GILBERT

Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill

1821 Cordova Road
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Beth & Lenore Gilbert celebrating Burger Beast's Birthday
Beth & Lenore Gilbert celebrating Burger Beast’s Birthday

My ears perked up when the Sun-Sentinel named Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill the Best Burger in South Florida. It had been a few weeks since my first visit, and their reader’s poll online ensured a second visit in short order.

Lenore Gilbert greets you as soon as you approach the counter to gander at the menu. She’s such a warm and unintentionally funny mom; you will love your interactions with her.

At the same time, Beth (Lenore’s daughter) is floating near the open kitchen area, making sure everyone’s meals are perfect before delivery to your table by one of their friendly runners. Much like her mom, she’s conscientious, likable, and unintentionally funny at times; it’s part of their charm.

Gilbert's 17th Street Grill Havarti Burger
Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill Havarti Burger

Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill is known for its thick juicy steakhouse-style burgers. Their classic burger is a good choice if you’re not adventurous; never be ashamed to stick to the basics.

But if you’re feeling a little frisky, the half-pound Havarti Burger with bacon, Havarti cheese, and garlic butter on an English muffin will rock your burger world.

AUTUMN WESTON

Weston’s Kewpee

118 S Washington Square
Lansing, Michigan

Weston's Kewpee + La Señora Beast & Burger Beast
Weston’s Kewpee (Autumn-Abbey-Jessica-Traci) + La Señora Beast & Burger Beast with the 2020 Burger Bash Trophy

One of the obsessions that came out of my Burger Museum was Kewpee Hamburgers and its history. The Kewpee burger chain (founded in 1923 & second oldest only to White Castle) has fractured into four parts: Halo Burger (Flint, Michigan), Kewpee Hamburgers (Lima, Ohio), Kewpee Sandwich Shop (Racine, Wisconsin) & Weston’s Kewpee Hamburgers (Lansing, Michigan).

Autumn Weston is the third-generation owner of Weston’s Kewpee; her grandparents founded the Lansing, Michigan landmark in 1923. During my 2019 book signing tour, I finally met Autumn right after the Kewpee lunch rush.

After enjoying their signature Olive Burger we had a long conversation about her family and the traditions that come along with an almost 100-year-old business. Then she dropped a bomb on me. Did you try our Olive Crumble?

Olive Crumble w/Cheese from Weston's Kewpee in Lansing, Michigan
Olive Crumble with Cheese from Weston’s Kewpee

The Olive Crumble is the love child of an Iowa Loose Meat and a Michigan Olive Burger. I just added a new love to my Kewpee obsession.

A few months later, I suggested to the folks at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash that Weston’s Kewpee should have a spot at the following year’s extravaganza. Lee Schrager (founder of the festival) agreed, and Autumn said to count on us.

On February 23, 2020, Weston’s Kewpee came to Miami Beach and won the Judge’s Choice trophy. What a special moment for burger history & this family-run business run by the hard workin’ and affable Autumn Weston.


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