Get on Board the Burger Bus

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Justin Turner is one of those rare people who has found it relatively easy to open a food truck in Houston.

Owner of Bernie's Burger Bus, which began operating just over a week ago, Turner decided to leave his very cushy job -- personal chef to the Rockets' Shane Battier -- and open his own place. But he very quickly discovered that getting the capital together to run a restaurant isn't as easy as it sounds. So instead, he turned to the world of mobile food.

"I could spend $250,000 to $300,000 on opening a restaurant, or I could spend $40,000 on converting a school bus into a food truck," he told me outside his bright-yellow bus on Monday afternoon. "I chose the bus."

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Extracurricular activities to go along with your main course load.
As indicated by the name, Turner primarily makes burgers out of his little bus -- it's not the full-size school bus you might be thinking of -- and he makes them all from scratch. Using organic grass-fed angus beef, Texas cheddar cheese and homemade condiments (yes, even ketchup, which actually tastes pretty good), he's created a menu of burgers that all correspond to a "school days" theme: The Principal (a fairly standard burger with "electives" such as Bernie's caramelized "tipsy" onions), The Substitute (with blue cheese, bacon and burgundy-laced mushrooms) and The Bully (an enormous double cheeseburger that Turner dares folks to take on).

Bernie's is named for Turner's grandfather, who sadly passed away before he could see his grandson's tribute to him. Turner says that his grandmother, who still lives in Henderson, Nevada, "hasn't seen the bus herself, but cries every time I mention it to her." And you can tell that the bus means just as much Turner, who's put everything he has into this venture.

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Turner's trusty sous chef takes orders from the window.
After making his debut at the Austin City Limits festival, where he fed hungry Houstonians (including our own Craig Hlavaty) who were excited to hear about the bus's move to the Bayou City, Turner is now establishing a semi-permanent schedule for his restaurant on wheels. For now, look for him every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night from 5 to 8 p.m. outside Lizzard's Pub (2715 Sackett) and outside Walter's (4215 Washington) every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Of course, you can also follow the bus yourself on Twitter to see when and where they're popping up next.

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