Featured Image courtesy of Wahlburgers.
When you hear the name Wahlberg, you probably think about action movies and big biceps. Or maybe you were a child of the Teen Beat generation like myself and the mere mention makes you break out into “The Right Stuff” and swoon.
But these days the name might do something else entirely. It might just make you hungry.
With 34 Wahlburgers restaurants world-wide, Wahlberg is quickly becoming synonymous with burgers. And not just any burgers, mind you, but Wahlburgers.
Trust me, there’s a difference.
Owned by Donnie, Mark and Paul Wahlberg, Wahlburgers is one of the newest restaurant additions to The Star. It’s a fast-casual family restaurant with classic (and not so classic) burgers, shakes and fries on its fun, creative and slightly nostalgic menu.
I sat down with Paul, the family chef, at their Star location to talk about food, family and how they’re intimately woven into his life and his restaurants.
Chef Paul’s love of food began early.
Paul is the fifth of nine Wahlberg children. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Nine. It’s common knowledge now, given their celebrity and reality tv show fame, but I want you to really think about that. Nine kids. In a humble working-class Boston family. That’s a lot.
But it shaped him.
It’s in this family where his love of food began, as he helped his parents cook and learned both how to feed a family and how to love food. This set the tone for his entire career, from his first job washing dishes at a family friend’s restaurant, to his first Wahlburgers location, food has always been in his blood.
And it’s evident that Paul takes food very, very seriously. It’s about so much more than flavor, so much more than presentation. It’s about family and community and connection. It bridges the past with the present and brings hope for the future, the menu at Wahlburgers giving homage to all three.
Wahlburgers fits at The Star, it fits in Frisco. With the name and the celebrity, it’s true that they could have planted roots anywhere for their first Texas location. Austin, Houston, even Dallas.
But Frisco made sense. This is a family town. It’s a sports town, yes even if the Boston Wahlbergs aren’t the biggest Cowboys fans around, they love the sports connection nonetheless. It’s a growing population and a location that draws people from all over Texas and the world. So to plant roots at The Star, it made complete sense.
And the menu, it makes sense for Paul, too.
Even though he has experience in some highly esteemed restaurants, burgers are important to him. They pay respect to his past, and to his family. Because for Paul, burgers were a delicacy, a special occasion treat.
It takes a lot of burgers and a whole lot of time, which they didn’t always have, to feed nine children. It was an event when his dad would stand over the grill to make burgers for the family. It was special enough that when he was considering his own restaurant, burgers were an obvious choice.
But beyond the restaurant, beyond the burgers, I met a man who loves food and loves his family. The nods to his humble upbringing and family roots are evident throughout the menu. Government cheese, found on many of their burgers, is a nod to the cheese you receive, well, from the government, the cheese the Whalbergs grew up on.
It’s an acknowledgment of how far they’ve come as a family with the understanding that they will always remember where they came from and always honor their roots.
Oh, and it makes a pretty darn good burger cheese too. So there’s that.
We bonded over food, Paul and I. We talked about our mutual East Coast favorites (Maryland Steamed Crab and Taylor Pork Roll Sandwiches) and we laughed about some of the childhood delicacies we still crave today (beans and weenies, in case you were wondering).
I asked him what his death row meal would be and thankfully, because he’s a foodie, he didn’t stare at me in shock and horror. He understood.
But, once again, his answer proved just how intricately food and family are interlaced in his life. Because he didn’t say filet mignon or Kobe steak. His answer wasn’t fancy and he didn’t hesitate.
Instead, he said he would ask for anything from his mom or dad or the perfect egg sandwich made by his daughter, which of course she learned at his hand just as he learned from his parents.
Food is about family. Yes, even in a pretend death row scenario.
The food he seems to love and crave is simple yet delicious and most importantly, nostalgic. When he’s not in the restaurant creating new dishes or perfecting existing ones, he’s at home eating egg salad, with Sriracha of course, and pita pizzas or raiding the fridge for leftovers.
He’s creating a meal based on side dishes for his vegetarian daughter (who also happens to be the inspiration for the meatless Impossible Burger on the menu) or creating beautiful roasts with sauce, any sauce, for his son.
The founding spirit of Wahlburgers, rooted in family and love, is evident at The Star location, even when he’s not there. The service is always friendly and open. Always. It’s an atmosphere where you feel at home, you feel welcomed and cared for. It makes you want to come back.
And the food, well, he managed to translate his passion to a burger menu, which is no small feat. Their burgers are beautiful burgers piled atop beautiful buns. They’re serious about their patties, using a proprietary blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib. And their buns, yes also proprietary, never get soggy and hold up to even their largest burger, the appropriately named Beast.
But they don’t stop with burgers and call it a day, the rest of the menu is just as mindfully created and equally fun. They have sloppy joes, tater tots, Alma’s pasta salad, Wahlbowls (a burger in a bowl you have to see to believe) and adult frappes that make you feel like a kid again.
And while the menus are consistently branded throughout all of their 34 locations, don’t be surprised if a regional favorite pops up from time to time, surprising local Wahlburger regulars across the board.
Don’t worry, Frisco, I pitched hard for a brisket burger just for you.
Whatever I expected from meeting Paul, it was not exactly what I got. This is a man who loves food and he loves family. They cannot be separated for him, nor should they be. He’s humble and seems almost awe-struck, shocked by the fact that he’s built a restaurant where people all over the world are eating his recipes and sharing his dream.
It’s endearing and unexpected for a man with the last name Wahlberg, famous brothers, and a reality tv show. It’s not what I imagined. But it’s what makes Wahlburgers a Frisco fit, this humble and open approach to food.
This town built around family first sees your dream, Paul, and we’re glad you’re here.
3685 The Star Blvd
Frisco, Texas 75034