We chatted with Co-Owner Jack Perkins to find out what makes this Dallas favorite the epitome of low-key Texas cool.
If you had to describe the restaurant in just a few words, what would they be?
The perfect place to go get a hamburger.
How did Maple & Motor get started?
My business partner, Austen Wright, and I were next-door neighbors, and I had semiretired from teaching. This was during the big recession. My stock portfolio had taken a hit, and I lost faith in the stock market. We were sitting, having a couple of beers one night and we said, “Why don’t we open a restaurant?” So we did.
We spent a year working on menu development, which means we spent a year making hamburgers in the garage. We got to where people would quit taking our invitations because they were so tired of us asking them to come over to taste our burgers.
Tell us about these burgers you developed in the garage.
My partner had an old flattop grill. We got it set up with propane, put it in the garage and started making burgers. I knew I wanted to make a flattop burger and not a flame-broiled —that was really it. We started getting different meats, trying out various cuts with different fat content. We experimented with ways to make the patties until we were satisfied.
How about what goes on the burger?
That was already a given. If you grew up in Texas, a Texas-style burger is what you get. It’s mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion. That’s how it comes.
So you didn’t have to think too hard about that.
I didn’t have to think at all.
But you do add a few things to the burgers.
We grill fresh jalapenos in clarified butter. Most operations use pickled jalapenos out of a jar, or some might pickle their own jalapenos. Grilled jalapenos and grilled onions are two signatures of our burgers. Also, bacon and chili. We don’t have avocados, mushrooms or anything that can spoil. If you want an avocado burger, you can go somewhere else. That’s always been our philosophy: We do what we do, and if it’s not your thing, go somewhere else. We’re not going to beg you to come eat here.
Tell us about the famous bologna sandwich.
As a kid, when my dad would feed us for the evening, it was either “breakfast for dinner” or fried bologna sandwiches. You just heat bologna in the pan, put it on bread and eat it. I figured enough people had similar childhood experiences of fried bologna that it would do well.
We experimented with all sorts of bologna—high-end bologna, low-end bologna, middle-end bologna—and we ended up settling on Sysco’s All-Beef Bologna. It was the right amount of salt, the right amount of flavor and it cooked up just right. It was just what we wanted.
How has Sysco been an integral partner in your success?
We typically source about 85 percent of what we use from Sysco. But when we first opened up, Sysco came around a lot and so did their biggest competitor, so we opened an account with both. Nobody is perfect, and things will go wrong. And whenever we had an issue of any kind, Sysco would take care of it. The company itself just made me feel better every day about things that would go right or go wrong.
Our sales rep has changed over the years, but we continue to have great relationships with them. High-quality service and food are what you get. The other companies were not making the same level of effort. Now I can’t imagine a day when we’re not using Sysco.
On your website, you talk about “Low Class Cool.” What does that mean?
We don’t try real hard to be cool. We just are what we are. It’s burgers.