By: Lauren Steinberg
University of Southern California
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Chi Chandler has a passion for food and opened up Kina's Burgers with his fiancée Kina. Photo By Lauren Steinberg.
Fast food that doesn’t take a fast toll on your body.
That is exactly what Kina Jones and Chi Chandler had in mind when they decided to open up their first restaurant together, Kina’s Burgers.
“Everybody can identify with burgers,” said Chandler. “Burgers are the staple of America. We didn’t want to do burgers the same way as everyone else. We didn’t want to be known for what everyone else does.”
The goal of Kina’s burgers is to provide an alternative to fast food, said Jones. Which according to Jones means “fast food with a homemade touch.” Kina’s Burgers offers their customers family friendly meals that range from gourmet burgers to their most popular menu item, seafood gumbo. However, their main objective is to start a trend toward a healthier and more flavorful alternative to fast food.
“We do not use any preservatives and everything is homemade. We make our own iced tea and of course we provide canned beverages for the convenience of our customers,” said Chandler. “We don’t use meat with preservatives and we make our own buns every day using our convection ovens.”
What sets Kina’s Burgers apart from other restaurants that serve “fast food” is the food’s personal touch. All of their menu items are cooked to order, with sides available to add to any dish. They even make their own ice cream and shakes. Selecting from the best growers and hand picking only the freshest ingredients is key in the taste and quality of Kina’s Burgers cuisine, said Jones.
But, if you ask Jones, she’ll admit that the secret ingredient to all of their food items is love. This comes as no surprise to many who know Jones and Chandler, who are set to get married in May of next year.
“I’ve known Kina since we were 12. She was my first girlfriend and then she dumped me for another kid because I wouldn’t kiss her,” said Chandler.
Originally from Los Angeles, Jones was lured into the culinary world when her passion for food was recognized at an early age. Although Jones was the youngest of 11 siblings, catering came naturally to her, as she took on the responsibility of preparing meals for her entire family daily.
“We reconnected about five years ago through my sister because she’s friends with her. Our families used to go to each other’s parties, but Kina was always with somebody else,” said Chandler. “After we reconnected it was clear that we were meant to be together.”
Jones and Chandler dreamed of owning their own business. They were both passionate about food and cooking and decided to take over a friend’s lease in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
“My other business partner was at this location before us, and he got ill so we came in and made him an offer on the property and for him to join our business venture,” said Jones. “My business partner is better now and he is still a partner. None of this was planned, it was just something that happened.”
Kina’s Burgers opened only four months ago, and already has a wide fan base. They are open six days a week and also cater events.
|Kina's Burgers is dedicated to providing a healthy alternative to fast food for residents in Baldwin Hills. Photo By Lauren Steinberg.|
When I walked into the restaurant for my interview with Chandler, Jones was so busy that she could only say a quick hello to me. Because they are so busy, Jones has hired additional full-time staff.
“Our customers come to us mainly from hearing about it from other people in the area,” said Chandler. “Our goal was to provide a great product to this area. People like that and can identify with that.”
Tara Paboojian, a sophomore at USC, can taste the difference between a burger from a fast food chain versus at Kina’s Burgers.
“I just didn’t feel gross or too full after eating at Kina’s,” said Paboojian. “The burger I ate was really good and I loved their fries.”
Jones cooks and Chandler is in charge of the mechanics of the restaurant.
“I work for the railroad so it’s easy for me to make my own schedule,” said Chandler. “When I’m not there, I’m here at the restaurant doing whatever needs to be done.”
Although there are no other locations for Kina’s Burgers yet, this dynamic duo hopes to expand their business.
“I haven’t really thought too much about the future of Kina’s Burgers but hopefully we’ll be a chain,” said Chandler. “People want to be a part of our restaurant and a few more locations would be ideal. But I try to take everything day by day.”
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup (5 or 6) sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds ground sirloin beef
8 sourdough rolls, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Topping suggestions: shredded cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves, sliced tomatoes, marinara sauce, prosciutto, sliced olives, roasted red bell peppers, lettuce leaves, arugula, ketchup, pesto
Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.
In a food processor, pulse together the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, cheeses, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Process until blended. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the beef and, using a wooden spoon or clean hands, stir until combined. Form the mixture into 8 (4-inch diameter) patties, each about 3/4-inch thick. Grill each side until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Brush the cut side of the rolls with olive oil and grill until lightly toasted, about 1 minute.
Place the burgers on the bottom half of the rolls and add desired toppings. Add the top half of the rolls and serve.