Exploring the history (and mystery) of Alberta's iconic Burger Baron chain in new documentary

·2 min read
Omar Mouallem interviews Khaled Kamaleddine, one of the owners of a Burger Baron restaurant in Edmonton, for his forthcoming documentary, The Last Baron.  (Amber Bracken - image credit)
Omar Mouallem interviews Khaled Kamaleddine, one of the owners of a Burger Baron restaurant in Edmonton, for his forthcoming documentary, The Last Baron. (Amber Bracken - image credit)

Anyone outside of Alberta would not know or understand the cult following behind the unassuming Burger Baron restaurant.

The popular fast-food chain, with its distinctive sign, popular mushroom burger and 25 locations around the province, has been a part of Alberta's dining scene since the 1950s.

But unlike most chains, all Burger Barons are independently owned. There are no franchise fees, different facades, colour schemes, branding and even menu items, save for the aforementioned mushroom burger.

Even the logo isn't consistent: Some barons are dressed in a red uniform, others in blue, and their cartoon noses range from a dot to a circle.

Amber Bracken
Amber Bracken

"It's actually the restaurant equivalent of a public domain," Edmonton writer Omar Mouallem told CBC's Edmonton AM on Thursday.

The self-proclaimed historian of the Burger Baron chain, Mouallem is currently working on a documentary about the franchise's origins in the province called The Last Baron.

It stems from a personal connection to the restaurant — his father opened a Burger Baron in High Prairie, Alta., in 1987 — and his observation that every single Burger Baron was owned by a Lebanese family just like his own.

In tracking the history of the chain, the documentary looks at the demise of the original Burger Baron in the 1950s, which led to its intellectual property becoming a free-for-all. "No one was really interested in it except for this, like, wave of Lebanese immigrants," Mouallem said.

Many of the owners of the restaurants had come to Canada fleeing the Lebanese civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990.

"Three people, you know, cried during our interviews," he said, describing how documentary led him to a deeper story than what he'd been expecting.

"That is not something that I was anticipating for a movie about barons and mushroom burgers."

Amber Bracken
Amber Bracken

This isn't the first time Mouallem has written about Burger Baron restaurants. In 2013, he set out on a quest to find the creator of the original Burger Baron chain, and instead found a fraud.

This time however, he is sure he has got it right in an interview with the son of the man who opened the first Burger Baron restaurant.

"He started off very, very bitter about how his dad's legacy had been kind of culturally appropriated, misappropriated by Lebanese," Mouallem said.

"By the end of the interview, once he realized how his dad's restaurant had actually changed so many lives for the good, he really turned around."

The documentary debuts on CBC Gem on Sept. 17.

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