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Al's Burger Shack moves away from longtime NC beef supplier Mills Family Farms

Burgers cook on a grill at Al’s Burger Shack on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The restaurant is currently switching beef providers.

Since its establishment in 2013, Al’s Burger Shack has used the same locally sourced, hormone and antibiotic-free beef to make its award-winning burger. 

But, new owners Charlie Farris and Jason Kesler have decided to transition away from using meat from Mooresville-based Mills Family Farms because of quality concerns. Farris did not disclose the identity of Al's Burger Shack's new beef supplier.

“This week, we’re working through the very last of the original supplier that’s out of the Charlotte area and going to the new beef,” Farris said.

He said when he and Kesler purchased Al’s Burger Shack in early December, they decided to revamp the signature burger after conducting a blind taste test with over a dozen participants. The test used a dozen different beef samples from various suppliers. 

“We realized that we all had a better burger before — just the beef itself,” Farris said. 

He added that, during the taste test, participants considered the burger’s texture, crust and rareness. The taste test results were unanimous and the testers decided on a supplier that offered a 100 percent "chuck" product.

"Chuck" meat is a portion of meat from an animal's neck, arms and shoulders. It is commonly used for making ground beef because of its well-balanced meat-to-fat ratio and flavor.

“The one we were using, sometimes it’d be greasier, sometimes it’d be leaner, sometimes it’d be chewier, sometimes it’d be more tender," Farris said. "And with the chuck, it’s very consistent all along.” 

Farris said the restaurant is not planning to switch suppliers for its other local specialty ingredients, including pimento cheese from Winston-Salem and ice cream from Maple View Farm. 

However, he said he was testing samples from various vendors and remains open to tweaking the menu to maximize quality.

“We’re gonna be constantly on the lookout for something better,” Farris said.

Nicole Mills, who owns the family-run Mills Family Farms with her husband Bradley, said she believes the original recipe for the burgers, which used Mills Family Farms' beef, resulted in the establishment being named the #1 burger in America by TripAdvisor in 2018.

“I just figured the public should know that he is not using the best burger in America anymore,” Mills said.

Mills added that the new owners did not officially inform her that they were making the switch and she heard from the US Foods distributor that their partnership was ending.

“We basically got zero notice,” she said. “These cattle are 18 to 20 months of age. So we’re planning 2 years out and as a partner, as a local farm, we were hoping we would at least get some notice.” 

Farris said in an email statement that the restaurant does not have any direct relationship with the meat provider, and communications are generally done through the distributor. He added that the only changes the new owners plan to make were those that would improve the food’s quality.

Mills acknowledged that her product is more expensive than other suppliers, but she said the higher price point is due to the beef’s higher quality.

“It would not have won all those awards if we didn’t have good genetics and a really good quality blend of our beef,” Mills said. "It’s all-natural, dry-aged, no added hormones, raised without antibiotics; it’s truly a North Carolina product where all the cattle are grown here on our farm in Mooresville.” 

Scott Cox, Chapel Hill community member and customer of Al's Burger Shack, said even if the ingredients change, he hopes the recipe will retain the same taste he is accustomed to. 

“He used local food, local beef, which is always great,” Cox said. “I always try to support local. I always thought the quality was a little bit better.” 

@DTHCityState | 

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