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10 Years In, Falls Church Burger Joint Elevates to New Heights

Elevation Burger's founding location, on the edge of Falls Church. The franchise started at this location nearly 10 years ago. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)
Elevation Burger’s founding location, on the edge of Falls Church. The franchise started at this location nearly 10 years ago. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)

A free burger is on the menu for all teachers, law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, active duty military and nurses next week at Elevation Burger when the organic fast food chain kicks off its tenth anniversary celebration.

Falls Church plays a key role in the commemoration since the first Elevation Burger opened doors here on September 19, 2005. Now, nearly ten years later, the franchise has 55 locations around the globe, and plans for more.

Falls Church was chosen as the birthplace because it was the right place at the right time.

The original storefront is the current storefront at the corner of Tinner Hill, 442 South Washington Street, where organic beef and chicken burgers and sandwiches are served.

(R TO  L) Mayor Dave Tarter, City Manager Wyatt Shields, Falls Church Chamber of Commerce member and local business leader Tom Gittins and Elevation Burger’s founder and chairman Hans Hess eat together during the company’s celebration of its 10-year anniversary. (Photo: News-Press)
(R TO L) Mayor Dave Tarter, City Manager Wyatt Shields, Falls Church Chamber of Commerce member and local business leader Tom Gittins and Elevation Burger’s founder and chairman Hans Hess eat together during the company’s celebration of its 10-year anniversary. (Photo: News-Press)

Hans Hess, Elevation Burger’s founder, said he was living in Arlington in 2005, “looking for the right place” to open his restaurant and without “much luck in D.C., I decided to go out to the suburbs and saw the ‘For Lease’ sign in the window.”

The building’s owner at the time, Bob Young, shared Hess’s enthusiasm for his product, and off Hess ran. He “wanted to do something that had never been done,” according to Hess.

Since 1999 when he left California, where he grew up, Hess had searched for the right tasty burger. His life’s route brought him to the Washington, D.C. region, where he worked for a year as a legislative aide for Rep. Jim Barcia (D-Michigan). “We really hit it off,” Hess said in a phone interview.

Working on Capitol Hill meant a lot of reading about public policy issues, including housing and urban development (which led him to real estate consulting) and concern about antibiotics in food.

Hess studied the problems of the American beef supply chain and realized an opportunity to work with ranchers and farmers who treated cattle humanely, whose animals were free of antibiotics and other chemicals, that would make for delicious burgers made from clean, organic, grass-fed beef.

Hess and his wife, April, spent three years experimenting and perfecting a burger made without hormones, steroids, pesticides, or “genetically modified” ingredients.

Hess applied his science education at California Polytechnic State University to his development of a lighter and healthier potato strip cooked in “heart-healthy” olive oil. The “Fresh Fry” was born.

 

And Hess said he got the name for the burger joint from a rock song.

“It was originally from a U2 song, ‘Elevation,'” Hess said. “It was a great metaphor for what I wanted to do, to ‘elevate’ a burger” to a status which would meet his tasting and environmentally sound requirements.

A youngster chows down at Elevation Burger's original store at 442 South Washington Street. Borne out of a ethos that was developed when Hess was "five or six years old," Elevation Burger has grown into a national chain. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)
A youngster chows down at Elevation Burger’s original store at 442 South Washington Street. Born out of an ethos that was developed when Hess was “five or six years old,” Elevation Burger has grown into a national chain. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)

Parents and teacher, take note: When he was five or six, Hess remembers “becoming environmentally conscious and being aware of the things we can do to take care of the Earth.”
A founder of EnviroCab, which uses all-hybrid taxis, a company Hess has since sold, Hess wrote “if there is a secret to success, it must be to choose to devote your time and energy to things that excite you and really make a difference.”

Late one afternoon last week, customer Emily Black of Fairfax stopped in Elevation after her dance class to order a vegan burger with lettuce and pickles. She said Elevation “has a good vegan option,” an opinion shared by Margie Jervis from Falls Church who came in to buy a burger to “carry me over” until her late dinner.

“I am not a vegan,” said Jervis, the costume and set designer for Creative Cauldron across the street, “but I don’t like to eat a lot of ground beef. The options here are really appealing for a good lunch” and they fit her “health-conscious” choices.

Gall bladder surgery helped seal the deal for the Falls Church Elevation Burger manager, Dean Ladson, to join the team.

After her operation, Ladson’s wife often felt discomfort after eating at many restaurants, he said, but not at Elevation Burger. Their four-year-old “has stopped eating at McDonald’s,” Ladson said.

“Falls Church has really been good to us,” Hess said. “I just want to thank the folks in Falls Church who have understood the organization and embraced our approach. Falls Church is a really unique place.”

To get a free burger, official identification is needed. Monday is the free day for active duty military; Tuesday, for teachers; Wednesday, law enforcement; Thursday, firefighters and EMS; and Friday, for nurses.

Elevation Burgers in Arlington, Fairfax (both locations), Tysons, Ashburn, Vienna, and Crofton, National Harbor, and Potomac, Maryland are participating in the free burger promotion.