I felt our area needed was another fast food burger place, but Antioch’s Habit Burger Grill is a different matter. The restaurant opened for business November 12 at Slatten Ranch Shopping Center and quickly became a favorite pit stop for East County Residents who, like the members of my family, enjoy a good burger.
I was especially happy about the opening because I had visited my first Habit Burger years ago while visiting friends in Sacramento. “You have to go to this place!” they told me. “It’s wonderful!” I tried to figure out what could be so wonderful about a fast-food hamburger place; it didn’t take me long to find out. The meat and the condiments are always fresh; nothing frozen. The Habit’s signature sandwich is the Original Charburger, with a double-meat Super Charburger version. A tagline, prominently displayed above the cash register, reads RESPECT THE BURGER, and there is a lot in these burgers to respect. They are charbroiled rather than cooked over a flat grill in order to add a like-it-came-from-your-back-yard quality. Even better, Habit’s hamburgers are the only fast food burgers I know of that are made with whole-wheat buns. Besides the normal set of condiments, a small area at the counter includes a selection of several kinds of chili peppers of varying heat.
The menu is not elaborate, with few enough selections to fit onto a narrow double-fold menu. Nevertheless, there are all the choices that you could want including salads and a variety of tasty sandwich options. In addition, the number of actual choices is enormous because customers can mix and match ingredients to create the dishes they desire. For example, they can add cucumbers or tri-tip to a burger, to a sandwich, or add either (or both) to a salad. Some regular customers come because of the choices.
We sampled both charburgers. Actually, “sample” might be the wrong word because I don’t think we left any behind, they tasted so good! The Santa Barbara Style burger was served on toasted sourdough and included cheese and avocado with double charburgers for a wonderfully different taste.
On previous visits, I had always chosen the Caesar Chicken Salad. The mixture of romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, topped with Caesar dressing fit my taste. The generous serving of incredible tender and tasty pieces of chicken made it a treat worth coming back for. This time, however, we sampled the Santa Barbara Cobb, which featured chopped tomato, avocado, bacon, egg, and grilled chicken breast, topped by vinaigrette dressing. It also had a liberal amount of blue cheese. If you like blue cheese (which I do), you will love this salad (which I did).
The sides were nearly as memorable as the dishes. The Tempura Green Beans were unique in my experience — the Tempura batter was light; the beans were fresh; the taste effect was wonderful. I’m a connoisseur of Onion Rings, and was delighted to find that The Habit takes these to a fantastic level. The batter is tasty, not greasy. Unlike most onion rings, they do not fall apart when you bite into them. Besides all the quality, the main burger is inexpensive. A family can have a meal with a $20 bill and take change home with them.
The Habit offers the normal serve-yourself drink selection, but they also have a large dispenser filled with a puree mixture of strawberry, lemonade, and cucumber that turned out to be so light and refreshing that we went back for several refills. I can’t imagine anyone who took one sip of that delightful beverage ever going to the standard dispenser for Diet Coke or Root Beer.
We spoke with the Regional Director, Leonard Marquez, who happens to be a Brentwood resident and friend of my family. Leonard said that his job becomes more satisfying every day. When he started with the company five years ago, there wasn’t a Habit site in the entire Bay Area. He would tell people that he worked for The Habit and until lately, nobody knew what he was talking about. Now he has oversight of the district’s 11 locations. Next year the number will be 136, since Leonard says the district is growing at the rate of 25 per year. Now when he tells people that he works for the Habit Burger Grill company, their faces usually light up with delight and they enthusiastically say some version of, “I love that place!”
“People come for the food,” Leonard said, “but they are pleased and sometimes shocked by the service and delighted by the fact that staff comes by to make sure everything is going alright and to check if the diner wants drink refills.” He said that they deliberately hire staff who during the interview displays a naturally sunny disposition. Leonard told us that the goal is to serve customers within seven minutes of whenthey make their order. Then he added, “We give them better service than they expect.”Architecture is open and light. The décor is stainless-steel modern. During daylight hours, dining areas are illuminated by sunshine coming through the tall windows. The area is spacious with seating both indoors and out. Whenever I go, all the surfaces seem to be spic-and-span clean. We learned that the chain started in 1969 in Santa Barbara by two brothers who had bought a little burger place. The brothers found the key to success that would differentiate them from competition burger joints, when they began making sandwiches with fresh buns purchased from a local bakery. They put them on the grill, so they were toasty grilled when combined with perfectly seasoned meat, and complimented by produce shipped in fresh from area farms.
“Nothing succeeds like success,” which accounts for the fact that The Habit did an IPO last November, offering investors stock at a price point that doubled on the very first day.
We always enjoy visits to the restaurant. And our visits have become fairly regular because, I guess you could say, we’ve gotten into The Habit.