Al's Got More than Burgers
The Love Shack
Al’s Got More than Burgers
By: Tom Griffen
Al’s Burger Shack on Franklin Street almost was a breakfast joint. But when Al Bowers shared this idea with his wife, Melody, she told him he ought to focus on what he loves the most—flipping burgers.
Since 2013, Al’s been sharing a passion he can trace back to his childhood.
Al remembers his very first restaurant experience. When he was six years old, his mother took him to The Speedy Lunch in Chase City, Virginia. He ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a vanilla shake. That moment in time remains locked in his consciousness.
“I had no idea you could eat outside of the house,” Al says. “In my world, I was surrounded by black women who cooked. Eating out was a new concept.”
Since then, Al’s been chasing that first feeling. One his mother believes is reinforced by a “hospitality gene” that causes him to be service-oriented. Al sums it up handily—he just wants to take care of people.
Al’s first eleven years were spent in housing projects with his mother. Then the rest of his youthful years with his father under less-challenging economic conditions.
“I went from reduced lunches to being able to pay for everything. Shopping for school supplies wasn’t just a one-time thing,” Al says. “I learned how to blend in and be myself. Be authentic while relating to anyone.”
After graduating from high school in Greensboro, Al attended UNC Chapel Hill, the only college to which he applied. While working towards a degree in Industrial Relations, he took a late night job as a short-order cook at Jigsaws. One night, a woman walked in and his life changed forever.
“She caught my eye because she looked like my third grade bus driver. Tall, slim, long hair,” Al says. “She was wearing a UNC sweatshirt, blue jeans, and clogs. That was the moment. It happened just like that.”
Though smitten by his future wife, Al never slowed down.
“I come from a long line of managers and entrepreneurs,” Al says. “Growing up, me and my siblings always had side hustles.”
So he hustled. Then hustled some more.
He had a series of restaurant jobs in the Triangle and also spent 10 years in the real estate world.
When Al opened his Burger Shack nearly three years ago, he knew that the basic recipe for success always includes good product and good people. With an explicit mission to provide local, fresh, and sustainable food, Al’s Burger Shack also seeks employees who understand the importance of unforgettable service.
“The staff gets nearly as many compliments as we do for the burgers,” Al says.“I look for the nicest people, not the ones with the most industry experience. Our place is small [680 square feet]. We are all on stage,” Al says. “Guests can see us, guests can hear us. The least we can do is make sure we are intentionally creating a memorable experience.”
When Al’s not working alongside his team, he and Melody try to stay connected with the community. It’s part of their business plan. They believe their success will allow them to give back to a community they adore.
“We fell for this place while we were in college,” Al says. “We want to see the town grow in a manageable way that doesn’t change the feel of local businesses.”
“We make a point of going out to spread the love,” Al says.When time permits, he enjoys a round of golf with old friends and fraternity brothers. Or a dinner date at another Chapel Hill restaurant with Melody and his two daughters.
And he’s got plenty of it. More love, in fact, than his little Burger Shack can contain.