The Burger King

There was a time when hamburger meat was just hamburger meat. Pat LaFrieda Jr., the third-generation co-owner of the New York City wholesale meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meat Purveyors, has changed all that. "If you were a chef a few years ago, it used to be a matter of 'I like this guy's chopped beef or I like this guy's'," says LaFrieda. "It was based on trust: you didn't really know what was in it." For years LaFrieda's family had been grinding a house blend of chuck, brisket, and boneless short rib without marketing it as anything but chopped beef; it was simply their hamburger meat—really, really good hamburger meat. Then, five years ago, the company was approached by Danny Meyer, proprietor of a local burger joint called Shake Shack, who wanted LaFrieda to create a custom blend for his restaurant. LaFrieda ground and taste-tested more than 20 different variations of meat blends before settling on one (the recipe remains a secret). Shake Shack's business boomed, and LaFrieda had an idea: why not start offering custom hamburger blends to other restaurants? He now sells proprietary hamburger blends to more than 50 restaurants, mostly in New York. LaFrieda also makes what many New York burger aficionados believe to be the ne plus ultra of hamburger meat: his top-secret "Black Label" blend. It's sold at the newly refurbished Minetta Tavern in Manhattan's Greenwich Village; the restaurant offers a Black Label burger for $26. It's a truly luscious sandwich, infused with the deep, almost musky taste of dry-aged premium steak. Meanwhile, LaFrieda keeps grinding, blending, and refining. "Everyone needs a niche," he says, "and this turned out to be ours."