Fairview burger cart a 'Smash' success
There is something magical happening inside of a food cart at a new plaza in East Multnomah County.
A local kid and first-time entrepreneur is whipping up mouth-watering, decadent burgers that use fresh ingredients and a complicated food science to set himself apart.
Sammy Marchand, a 22-year-old Wood Village resident, is running Sammy's Smashburgers at the newly opened Fairview Food Plaza, 22320 N.E. Halsey St. A smashburger is a flattened patty that has a crust on both sides. The technical term for what is happening is the Maillard reaction, which occurs when you reduce sugars and proteins with heat.
What that all boils down to is gooey, caramelized meals that explode with flavor.
"I've always had this business fire brewing inside of me, and I knew I wanted to own my own place," Marchand said. "I love burgers, and I love being able to share them with my neighbors and community."
The process of watching a smashburger come together would bring a tear to any food-lover's eye. Marchand starts by running burger buns over a butter roller before tossing them on a griddle to brown. He then presses hand-formed, 2.5 ounce, 80-20% blend beef patties onto that same griddle, and uses a press to smash them down and achieve a perfect sear.
Then there are different options for toppings. The best-seller is the eponymous Sammy's Special — American cheese, lettuce, grilled onion, pickle and his secret "smash sauce."
There is a bacon-blue burger, and a mushroom swiss. The most decadent is the mac & cheese burger, which is overflowing with his made-daily mac and cheese, which can also be bought on its own as a side dish. There is also a veggie burger available.
"Putting all of this together is a lot of hard work," Marchand said. "But it is rewarding."
He shows up in the morning every day to do his prep work — making the mac & cheese, grilling onions and bacon. He buys all of his ingredients locally, and takes care to maintain a clean, inviting cart.
"It's about having a lot of pride in your work," he said.
Marchand has a big personality that fits the bold flavors he is serving. He works with a beaming smile on his face, loves calling everyone boss, and makes time to connect with and chat with customers in between manning the grill.
And so far the reactions from folks have blown the burgeoning chef away.
"I knew people would love the food, but I didn't expect what has happened." Marchand admitted.
He is selling out daily — more than 110 burgers — and already has a core group of regulars. One afternoon he made so many burgers in such a short time that his fancy spatula broke in half. And just the other day a 76-year-old resident posted on social media that Sammy's was the best burger he ever had.
"I don't know him, just saw his post," Marchand said. "That is the best part of all of this — it really makes you stay humble."
He brings a history of working in both the front and back of house within the food industry, and a wealth of knowledge from all sorts of roles across multiple businesses.
Marchand first cut his teeth at Carl's Jr. and as a pizza cook at The Rock. He worked at the Martin Brower warehouse in Portland, and spent the past three years cooking at a local grill. At that same time he was learning the ropes at a food cart, with a mentor who taught him all the tricks of making it work. That connection sparked the idea for Sammy's.
"I had been saving all my money, found a cart, and right when I started looking for a location they stuck the fork in the ground," Marchand said with a laugh, referencing the world-record tallest fork statue that marks the entrance to the Fairview Food Plaza.
"I wanted to be my own boss — I wanted to do something I really loved," he added.
Justin Hwang, a restauranteur who helms the Fairview Food Plaza, was trying to find a burger joint to add to the food cart pod.
"I had a lot of burger places applying to get in," Hwang said. "But after meeting Sammy and trying his food I knew he was the one."
"All I had to do was whip him up some burgers and he was hooked," Marchand said with a laugh.
If the lines at Sammy's Smashburgers are anything to go by, Marchand has a bright future in the food industry. He is already thinking about his next dream. He wants to open a brick and mortar location in East Multnomah County, while still operating the food cart. He also has an ultimate dream of moving up to Alaska to open a fishing shack — Salmon Sams — where he would sell bait and lures. Though not to fear, burger lovers, for he doesn't plan on going anywhere anytime soon.
"It has been really fun serving the community hot, local fresh food with a smile on my face," he said. "I love all the support they have given me. It's all about bringing the community together for good food."
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
WHERE: Fairview Food Plaza, 22320 N.E. Halsey St.
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