Chef Justin Turner started his career at the age of 16 working at Wendy’s, and he now owns Bernie’s Burger Bus—one of the most successful food truck operations and brick-and-mortar restaurants in the Greater Houston area.
With two restaurants already open and a third in the planning stages, Turner said he had many people to thank for his success. The most notable individual is a man he calls a “father figure”—former Houston Rocket forward Shane Battier.
“I was the personal chef for Shane for three years in Memphis. [He] got traded to the Rockets, and he asked me to come with him,” Turner said. “[Battier] was a really big part of my success in this [Bernie’s Burger Bus]. Shane really allowed me to grow, not just culinary wise.”
It was when Battier realized he might be traded away from Houston that Turner decided to make a go for it as a business owner, he said.
“[The trade] made me think what I wanted to do,” Turner said. “I met a girl who piqued my interest in staying in Texas. And, I knew I had a ticking clock [age] inside of me to start my own [restaurant] soon, within five years, or I’d be a little too old to put in the 80-90 hours of work a week that is needed.”
After finding inspiration in the food truck and street food scenes in both Austin and Portland, Oregon, Turner said he decided in spring 2010 to operate a food truck. He considered focusing on pizza or hot dogs before settling on the American classic—hamburgers.
“[With] burgers, I felt like I could do a lot more of the control,” he said. “I could control the condiments, control the grind of the meat to enhance all the flavors.”
Turner opened his first food truck, a renovated school bus, in October 2010. By January 2011, he said he had launched a second truck and by May 2011, he had his third food truck in operation.
The restaurants features a menu replete with menu items named after school namesakes and features, such as the principal, detention, study hall and fire drill.
The brick-and-mortar restaurants are decorated with school themed decor and have a row of lockers reminiscent of high school. Turner opened his first brick-and-mortar location in Bellaire in June 2014, and then a LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch location in November 2015.
The principal burger ($9.65) is one of many school-themed items at Bernie’s Burger Bus.[/caption]
Turner appeared on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” which features four chefs competing against each other cooking a meal from a mystery box of ingredients. The show was filmed in October 2015 and aired in March. Turner won the competition and a $10,000 prize.
“It was cool, we were there all day. The theme was ‘The Bold and the Bacon-ful,’” he said. “The toughest challenge was not losing to myself, staying focused and don’t worry about the TV portion.”
As the owner of three successful food trucks and two restaurants, Turner said he has developed a passion for equal treatment of his staff as well as creating lasting memories for those who dine at Bernie’s Burger Bus.
“Our motto is MVP—mission, vision and passion,” he said. “Our mission is to serve the best burger and fries on the planet. Creating a memory for somebody is exciting. I hope they remember my place as a great experience in their life.”