Classic Mount Lookout burger joint Zip's Cafe is under new ownership — but don't freak out. Longtime general manager Mike Burke recently purchased the 88-year-old burger institution from Brian Murrie, who had owned the restaurant since 1996.
"Over 18 years later, it's now time to pass the torch," Murrie said in a recent press release. "We've been side by side and had each other's backs for years. It's Mike's turn now."
Burke has been working at Zip's off and on since he was 15, and has been running day to day operations for the past six years. The restaurant is famous for its burgers, from its Zip Burger to its more adventurous and meaty Girthburger (a Zip Burger with a split mettwurst) and Train Wreck (a Zip Burger with shaved ham, a grilled mettwurst and three types of cheese). But they also have excellent onion rings — super crispy and the onions don't fall out of the breading like they do at other places. Also, if you're a vegetarian, they have both a garden burger and a black bean burger, which you can dress like a real burger-joint burger — American cheese, mayo, onion, pickle, tomato.
We caught up with Burke to ask him a couple of questions about the transition and assuage any fears from longstanding Zip's fans about potential menu changes.
CityBeat: Since Zip's is a classic Cincinnati institution, people will want to know if the menu be staying the same under your control. Will there be any changes or updates?
Mike Burke: Zip's is so consistent, I don't foresee many changes to the menu. There may be some small additions here or there but I don't think the customers will notice a big difference around the restaurant … and I think that's a good thing!
CB: Since the restaurant has been part of your life off and on since you were a teenager, what does it mean for you to own Zip's?
MB: Zip's has been a big part of over half my life and at this point it is going to be even bigger for the second half. It is definitely a wild dream come true. It's owning an iconic part of Cincinnati history. To keep Zip's history of a neighborhood/city favorite and its quality and consistency the same is my biggest job moving forward.
CB: What's your favorite menu item?
MB: Hands down my favorite menu item is the Girthburger. It's our regular burger topped with a signature mettwurst made for us at our butcher (Avril-Blehs on Court). It was named by former Bengal Pat McInally. I think it holds its own against any "designer" burger or sandwich in town. You can't skip our world famous chili either.
CB: Can you relate one of your favorite memories of Zip's?
MB: Biggest memory: The former owner, Brian, hired me when he was the manager. About a month later he was the new owner. The two of us worked a busy Saturday lunch together and afterward were catching our breaths. I remember asking him, "B, do you ever just look around and think how fucking cool it is that you own this place?" His response, with a smile and a nod, was a very simple and proud, "Yes." Ever since then, it was a crazy dream. Back then, I never thought [owning Zip's] to be a possibility.
Other than that, I will also never forget my jaw hitting the floor when my friend Patrick walked in with Jack White. One of the few times I have ever been star struck, for sure the only time while at work. He was a super nice guy and seemed to enjoy himself.
Go: 1036 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout;
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.