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Magical Mayonnaise and Un-Forked Burgers With Richard of R.F. O'Sullivan & Son

Welcome to a special Burger Week edition of Lifers, a feature in which Eater interviews the men and women who have worked in the restaurant and bar industry for the better part of their lives, sharing their stories and more.

Richard Sullivan, owner of R.F. O'Sullivan & Son
Richard Sullivan, owner of R.F. O'Sullivan & Son
Katie Chudy for Eater

What is your role at R.F. O'Sullivan & Son?

That's me. I'm Richard, as in the 'R' in R.F. O'Sullivan's.

Talk to me about your burgers and their reputation.

Burgers? Well, we started our burgers in 1992. We started out with maybe doing 20 or 30 pounds a week, and now we're doing well over 500 pounds a week. So you figure the time difference from 1992 to now — back then, there were maybe two or three hamburger bars (you know, like fast-food-type burger bars), but now, you see there's one on every corner, like Dunkin' Donuts. But, as I've seen, you can try the rest, but you'll always come back to the one that you like the best. I've had a great following since day one.

How did you develop your distinctive style of cooking burgers — no flattening and no seasoning?

"If you fork the burger, all the juices come out. If you squish the burger, all the juices come out."

It all comes down to my original theory that you don't want to fork the meat because you'll lose the juices. If you fork the burger, all the juices come out. If you squish the burger, all the juices come out. You want a nice, puffy, juicy burger. I also like my burgers rare. And I mean rare, rare. A lot more people like them that way nowadays, but there still are a lot of people who are afraid to eat rare meat. I don't know why they are; I take pride in my meat. It's bought fresh every day, and it's never frozen.

How often do you get requests for rare burgers?

All the time. Some people just come in because they know they can come here and not be afraid to eat it rare. You hear all of these things with food nowadays, and you just have to be careful, but like I said, everything here is fresh.

We get most of our business from word-of-mouth, and a lot of people come in because they just don't believe it. They want to see if it is rare and if it is half a pound. They want to see if the potatoes are fresh, and they are. Then they keep coming back. That's why I've been here for so many years.

Where does the inspiration for your burger combinations come from?

I just think of things every day. I'll walk around and see something, and I think of my tastes and everyone else's tastes, and I just think of things that someone may like. Then I come up with some crazy name.

What's your most popular burger?

There's a few. The Black and Blue is popular; it has the crushed black pepper and the blue cheese on top. There's the Blackjack — that one's Cajun. It has Cajun spices and a Cajun mayonnaise. And about that mayonnaise, there's these students from MIT who came up with a theory that eating that mayonnaise does something to your brain, or something like that. I've eaten that burger many times, and I haven't seen anything, so I don't know about that.

You have such strict guidelines on how you prepare your burgers; what's the training program like for your chefs?

"There's no doing anything wrong; it's just do it and do it right."

I've had the same guys with me that I've always had. They like it here, otherwise they'd go. They know the way I like it, and they just do it that way. There are no changes or compromise. There's no doing anything wrong; it's just do it and do it right.

What do you think of any other burgers in town?

Believe it or not, I don't actually go out to eat burgers. I mean, I see them on Phantom Gourmet and other things, but I don't really go there. I don't say their good or bad; I just wouldn't eat there.

Is there anyone else in town who you think has a good burger game?

I think we're all pretty equal. I don't like to be on an island, but I just pay attention to what I'm doing. You know, I do what I do, and you do what you do, and I put out my best. And it shows.

Have you seen an increase in burger enthusiasts lately?

Burgers have always been a big thing. Everyone loves a burger. Even the vegetarians. I actually have a veggie burger on the menu, and I eat it, and I think it's pretty good. Lately burgers have just gotten so much attention, and lots of people are trying different burgers and going to different places, you know, trying this guy, and that guy, that napkin, and this napkin. You know, whatever. They always come back to the best and the place that makes them the happiest.

Do you see a lot of people taking photos of food?

Oh yeah. It's like they're famous or something. Every time they look at the burger for the first time, they see this huge burger. They take their photos and then send it out to their network. It's a good thing to see burgers get so much attention.

How do you feel about taking pictures of food?

It's great. I mean, it's free advertising. People come here right from the airport. You know, they're sitting on a plane, and when they get off, they're dying for something and they come here. It's complimentary and an honor.

R. F. O'Sullivan & Son Pub

282 Beacon St, Somerville, MA 02143 (617) 491-9638 Visit Website