By Jordyn Haime
Where does a good chef find inspiration? Nick Speros’ passion for cooking came from an unexpected place: necessity.
“My parents were always working and my mom would call us from the salon (where she worked) and say, ‘okay, so there’s a chicken in the refrigerator. You’re gonna take it out, do this, this, and this, put it in the oven at 350 for an hour-and-a-half—we’ll be home at that point and we’ll eat,’” Speros remembers.
Speros, 48, is still firing up delicious concoctions in the kitchen as head chef and co-owner of the newly opened Lowell Burger Company at 143 Merrimack St. in downtown Lowell. LBC specializes in locally sourced gourmet burgers, hand-crafted cocktails and beer.
LBC fosters a vibrant, unique menu sure to inspire even the burger connoisseur. If you’re looking for a classic bite with a bit of a twist, go for the LBC Burger ($10): a beef burger with cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, and tomatoes with chef Speros’ own homemade LBC sauce. If you feel like trying a burger that’s a bit outside the box, you might go for the JamOnIt ($14): a beef burger with blue cheese, arugula, tomato, stout syrup, and apple/bacon jam. There’s even a vegan option: the Millennial ($12). It’s a mushroom and quinoa burger topped with red pepper/almond spread, nutritional yeast, and arugula.
Local farmers are an integral part to LBC, where the beef comes from a cohort called Northeast Family Farms. Produce is supplied by Mill City Grows and other area partners.
“We’re reconnecting each other with the food because the food doesn’t start at the restaurant,” Speros says. “It starts with the farmers, with the land. I want to bring that to people because I think that’s a beautiful gift to have.”
The road to opening his own restaurant in downtown Lowell was a long one. Even though he was cooking family dinners at age 11, Speros didn’t have aspirations of working in a kitchen.
When his parents weren’t working, Speros’ father was a talented “pantry chef.”
“He could open the refrigerator, look into the pantry, see what we had and make an amazing meal,” Speros recalls. “It was just this sweetness in that ability to nurture us with very little. I kind of think that really made me who I am today—watching people do so much with so little to make us satisfied.”
Speros also drew inspiration from his grandmother, who was constantly in the kitchen crafting old-school Greek dishes like mouth-watering dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and spanakopitas (spinach and cheese pies).
“She cooked and cooked and cooked all the time and if you went to her house and you refused the food that she gave you, you’re getting kicked out of the house,” he says.
Speros’ Greek influence even snuck its way into LBC’s menu. The Greek Boy Burger ($16) is a lamb burger with tzatziki sauce, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, olives, and shredded lettuce; there are even Greek Fries ($5) made with feta, lemon zest, and oregano served with tzatziki.
Speros initially went to Northeastern University in Boston to study public relations and journalism.
“That was just when Al Gore invented the internet,” he jokes.
But when his drive toward journalism began to falter, Speros took a job waiting tables at one of the better restaurants in Boston at the time, where he discovered a profound curiosity for life in the kitchen.
“I kept asking questions of the chef and all the people in the kitchen, and they would always answer, and then I would ask another question, and another question, and then finally the chef looked at me and said ‘you know what, Nick? I’m tired of answering all your f**king questions. Shut the f**k up and go to culinary school. Get the f**k out of my kitchen.’ That was pretty much his response.”
Speros enrolled in culinary school at Newbury College in Brookline.
“There was this really beautiful feeling of this is what I’m meant to be doing,” he says. “There was nothing else in the world that made me feel such joy and such pressure, such struggle, and such everything.”
Describing the restaurant world as a place of “joyful chaos,” Speros ended up taking a seven-year break from the frantic pace of the kitchen to undertake a different kind of mission at Project Bread: Walk For Hunger. There, he helped to redevelop school lunch menus with more nutritious choices while simultaneously working with children in the classroom to create a “cultural shift” toward healthy eating.
Speros’ work with Project Bread eventually led him to Lowell, where he met Tobias Marx, Lowell’s event coordinator and now, the other half of Lowell Burger Company. Bonding over their mutual love of food, Marx and Speros decided to start restaurant consulting part-time to make some extra money. They re-vamped the menu at a struggling Lowell restaurant with basic pub-style items like burgers and wings.
“The whole Burger Company stemmed from the idea that, okay, these people are willing to come here and eat burgers that were good—but they weren’t the best that we could find,” Speros explains. “Right now I’m getting the best that we can find (at LBC) because we’re using all pasture-raised beef from family-owned farms.”
Speros’ hope is that customers will find the farm-to table aspect of the restaurant an exciting way to connect community members.
“If anything, the restaurant will hopefully give a little slice of the perfection of nature—to what we’re eating and what we’re consuming—and how we’re being nurtured,” he says.
Lowell Burger Company is located at 143 Merrimack Street. Their current soft opening hours are Tuesday-Thursday 12pm-2:30pm and 5pm-9pm, and Friday and Saturday 12pm-2:30pm and 5-10pm. Stay tuned to HOWL for more news regarding LBC’s official grand opening and updated hours.