AJ Bombers, the Milwaukee hamburger joint of the moment, carefully curated its arrival in Madison and its location announcement via social media. That social media presence is part and parcel with the whole AJ Bombers experience, says co-owner Joe Sorge.
AJ Bombers opened in Milwaukee in 2009, built a following through such social media interactions, ended up on Food Wars on the Travel Channel and is now set to open its second location in the old Crave space at Henry and Gorham this fall.
Why Madtown and not a second spot in MKE? Madison and Milwaukee are "so similar," says Sorge, in a phone interview. There's a high volume of college students, and both AJ Bombers locations are near event and entertainment districts. "And Madison customers are already traveling to Milwaukee and saying 'Please come to Madison.'"
AJ Bombers is nothing if not responsive to customer feedback. Sorge even replies to Yelp complaints (not always, but sometimes). Madison is a natural fit for a social-media-driven restaurant, says Sorge.
What does that mean? One, no traditional advertising. Secondly, customers tell the restaurant what they want to see on the menu, via Facebook or Twitter or the restaurant's own "The Burger Whisperer" site -- and they can haz. The Madison location already has its own Twitter account, @AJBombersMSN, as well as a Facebook page.
Sorge owns AJ Bombers with his wife Angie Sorge and David Marcus, and owns several other high-profile Milwaukee restaurants, including Smoke Shack and Water Buffalo.
He thinks there is a place for AJ Bomber's among Madison burger classics, from the Plaza to Dotty's. "It's a good fit. The burger culture is there." And what differentiates AJ Bomber's is not just the burger, but restaurant atmosphere and customer interactions.
The menu is focused almost solely on burgers, but includes a stuffed mushroom burger, a black bean burger and a veggie burger for non meat-eaters, as well as a chicken sandwich, hot dog, grilled cheese, and an option for an organic grass-fed beef patty. It's also known for its special "Burger of the moment." Peanuts in the shell delivered via a rocket ship, are the snack of the moment; shells go on the floor.
Milwaukee restaurants opening branches in Madison have not fared well of late. George Webb, the hamburger diner, had an outpost on East Washington Avenue near Union Corners for a few years in the late '90s. (George Webb does manage to maintain 36 locations in the eastern half of the state.)
Another Milwaukee cheap eats favorite, Real Chili, opened a storefront on State Street in 2005 that lasted for a couple years. The sub chain Cousins also originates in Milwaukee, and has 10 Madison-area stores. The cross-pollination is meager the other direction as well: Rocky Rococo pizza has numerous stores in Milwaukee; Brocach Irish pub has one.
Other new restaurants up before the Alcohol License Review Committee in June were The Rigby, headed for the old Casbah spot on E. Main Street; Noodle Express, at the East Madison Shopping Center, and Dumpling Haus, at Hilldale.