- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Ever chow down at a restaurant and think, “I could do better”? A new burger joint is giving you the chance to prove it.

At 4food, a recently opened burger shop in Manhattan, you’re not restricted to the menu on the digital screen. Customers are encouraged to mix and match ingredients, actually add their creations to the menu, then share them with friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

What’s the incentive, you ask, other than the satisfaction of (maybe) watching your culinary creation be devoured by the masses? If someone orders your dish, you get a 25-cent credit.

And you can build your better burger online or onsite.

In the store, you can be guided by a staffer, called a hawker because they “swoop in and help when needed,” said one. Or, you can go at your own pace on one of the bolted-down iPads. When you get to your table, you can continue dreaming up great creations _ there’s free Wi-Fi for browsing the Web while eating. You also also see Foursquare check-ins and tweets about the experience on their 240-square-foot LED monitor, if that’s your thing.

And if it’s all just too confusing, prebuilt burgers also are available.

Adam Kidrom, the man behind 4food, says his goal was simply to provide fast, nutritious, customizable foods made of all-natural, local ingredients.

But sorry, no French fries.

Something else that may jar the average customer _ the burger patties have holes in the center. That’s right, they look like beef doughnuts.

The cooks fill that hole with the customer’s choice of 25 different mixtures called VeggieScoops, such as avocado chili mango or edamame with sea salt.

The scoop “transforms the taste and nutritional profile of the burger,” said Kidron.

They call it the (W)holeBurger. Get it?

Kidron doesn’t like the way the average fast food burger ends up overcooked to make sure it is safe to eat. So after considering the barbecue trick of indenting the middle of a burger patty to help it cook more evenly, he decided to try removing the center entirely. From there, it was an easy leap to fill the hole with something delicious.

“It was absolutely scrumptious,” he said. “And everything led from that.”

Kidron says the benefits of their social networking presence go both ways. Offering in-store credit and giving away food to Facebook and Twitter followers will create loyal customers. It’s also made news of the restaurant go viral even before the grand opening. So far, they’ve gained over 3,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter combined.

“We have not spent one cent on advertising,” said Kidron. “If a customer sells one burger, that’s money we can put into ingredients, making a better burger and keeping the price down.”

Customized burgers start at $6. A meal, which includes a burger, side and their own cold tea blend, is $12.

But how does it taste?

Early reviews have been positive. In the days before its grand opening, locals and passers-by got a sneak peak during the soft launch.

“You can tell a lot of love went into the burger,” said David Schlosser, 34, a chef from Los Angeles in town on business who heard about 4food from a friend. He ordered the Somos Americans, a beef patty with chipotle hominy, manchego cheese and guacamole on a multigrain bun. “It just tastes better and fresher. But I’m not sure how I feel about the Square Roots. It’s hard to recreate the fry.”

With this being a fry-free zone, Kidron worked to find a substitute to the burger’s trusty companion. His answer was the Square Root _ a diced and roasted medley of Idaho potatoes, sweet potatoes, purple potatoes and yuka.

“I’m gluten intolerant, so it’s a good place for me to eat lunch,” said Margaret Watt, 24, of Long Island, who works in public accounting nearby. “I have the rice patty bun. It’s good but not amazing. It’s just rice cooked and pressed into a bun. Still, to have that option is pretty cool.”

4food offers five different buns, eight types of patties, 25 VeggieScoops, nine different slices (such as onions and pickles), seven cheeses and 16 condiments. And don’t forget lettuce and tomato.

Realizing those choices create more than a million possible combinations, Kidron, a former music producer and new media entrepreneur, wanted to give customers the power to make and brand their own.

“My idea is that business is as progressive as you want it to be,” he said. “It can make lives more interesting and better. 4food is not the same old thing.”

The most popular user-generated burgers will have a special spot on the menu.

“I will definitely visit again,” said Amritha Singh, 27, of Long Island, who works across the street. “The menu is dynamic, which is pretty attractive in an area where the food gets boring really fast.”

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