Located in an old Dennys Diner at the intersection of Cooper Street and Interstate 30 in Arlington, Toms Burgers and Grill is a modest place that might not have the burger recognition of a Kincaids or a Freds.
But what it does have is a fiercely loyal group of customers who helped Toms to victory in the DFW.com Readers Bracket.
Along the way, Toms, a No. 8 seed in the Pickle Region, took out some of the biggest names in the local burger biz Charleys, Five Guys, Rodeo Goat (the judges champion), Freds and finally Jakes to claim the title.
Victory didnt come easy, says owner Tom Jones.
I worked my butt off, to be honest with you, says Jones, the former engineer who launched his burger joint in 2006. I did anything and everything I could think of to get the word out.
That included a social-media blitz and sending regular messages to his E-club, which has between 2,000 and 3,000 members. He also posted constant updates and pleas to continue voting on the Toms Facebook page (and paying for boosted posts). He also wasnt shy about asking Facebook friends who had as many as 5,000 friends to spread the word on their pages.
The strategy worked during one week of voting, Toms had more than 33,500 visits to its Facebook page. But Jones says he was also going to let his burgers do the talking. Thats why he encouraged customers to try the other guys burgers and decide whos best.
We had a lot of customers come in during the bracket matchups, starting with Charleys [in Round 1], Jones says. Theyd say, We went to Charleys yesterday and we came here to check out the burgers for the burger bracket. [So] early in my campaign, in one of my posts I put, Go try them, and vote for the one you like the best. I just felt confident that we had a better burger.
But Jones didnt always feel so confident about his prospects. The first couple of years in business were rough, he admits now.
We didnt make money for about 20 months, Jones says. It was tooth-and-nail for a while. And [Jessica, his former wife] was eight and a half months pregnant with our second child when we opened the place. Were not a Chilis. Were not somebody that everybody knows the name of.
But beginning around 2009, the restaurant began to build momentum, and several key staff members including general manager Joey Keith and kitchen manager Uriel Moncada have been with the restaurant at least since then. Servers are polite and friendly and add to the old-school charm of the place, as much as the 45 rpm records on the wall do.
We have an early 1950s/1960s-type diner feel, Keith says. Were not running around with our hair slicked back or anything, but we serve old-fashioned-style food, good ol diner-style food.
In a Burger Battle that has shown the increasing divide between traditional and more chef-driven burgers, Toms is one of those places that straddles that line it has plenty of old-fashioned flame-broiled burgers that have been on the menu from Day One, but it has also experimented with some more adventurous toppings in the Burgers of the Month section, including such gambles as a pizza burger.
That was actually inspired by being in yalls competition two years ago, Jones says. We always had a part of the menu that said build your own burger, but a lot of people didnt get that. So we started creating. It was a group process. One of my servers would have an idea, or a customer would have an idea for a burger. So we just started creating burgers that we thought would have good burger profiles.
All that has kept people coming back, and has helped lead to new curiosity about Toms. But Jones gives props to his opponents in the Readers Bracket, all of whom he says put up tough fights.
None of them were landslides, Jones says. It was like, Cant one of them be easy? But the competitions stiff, and I cant tell you how excited I am that we came out on top.