Why This Marketing Pro Ditched His Nine-to-Five to Launch a Burger Brand

"When the pandemic set in, I saw that everyone was baking bread and making cookies. I thought to myself, 'What’s my bread? What are my cookies?'"
Bodhi Valentine, founder of Burgerland Smash Up (photography: Jackie Dives)

Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they’re doing now is not what they initially set out to do. Making major professional changes—even mid- to late-career—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak to founders, business leaders and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we speak to Bodhi Valentine, the founder of Vancouver-based Burgerland Smash Up.

In 2015, I moved from my hometown of Vancouver to St. Louis, Mo., to work for a company that was developing a smart thermostat. That job took me all around the U.S., and I became obsessed with trying all the regional burgers. In Oklahoma, they do a cheeseburger with fried onions that was earth-shaking for me when I first tried it. In Missouri, I was introduced to the guberburger, which is dressed with peanut butter and pickles.

When I was in the States, I was making more money than I ever had in my life, but I was miserable and burned out. After two years, in 2017, I moved back to Vancouver and started doing freelance web design and marketing. When the pandemic set in, I saw that everyone was baking bread and making cookies. I thought to myself, “What’s my bread? What are my cookies?” People were doing meal kits, so I thought, “What about a burger kit?” I wanted to specialize in smash burgers, the original burger-cooking technique that’s currently having a renaissance.

Before long, opportunities came my way. In February of 2021, I rented a kitchen space near Strathcona Park so I could test recipes. I partnered with local suppliers, who helped me source grass-fed organic beef with the perfect fat ratio and grind.

A photo of Bodhi Valentine, the founder of Burgerland Smash Up

We launched Burgerland Smash Up in May of that year. We offered three burger kits: the Classic American Cheese, the Oklahoma Fried Onion and Cheese and the California Up-and-Down, which is my take on the In-N-Out burger. The kits cost $40 and include everything you need to produce four smash burgers at home. In our first month, we only sold 150 kits, but we got lots of positive feedback.

I leased a trailer, and that summer and fall, I did pop-ups at breweries and Keefer Yard, an outdoor tented bar and mini-golf course. Things built up from there. I started serving up burgers at Main Street Brewery seven days a week, and I also took over their small kitchen space, where we made regional sausages—chorizo, bratwurst, English sausages and hot dogs. I hired a butcher and we were butchering, grinding and stuffing our own meat and cooking in a tiny oven. It was a lot harder than I expected. In March, both my butcher and I got Covid, so I temporarily shut down the sausage brand. Luckily, the burger trailer was still doing great business. We were bringing in $30,000 a month, including $10,000 to $15,000 of revenue from Uber Eats and Door Dash orders alone.

I’ve recently bought a new food truck, and I’ve been able to get back to the tiny Main Street kitchen with our butcher. We’re back up and running.

As told to Andrea Yu
As told to Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She writes about life, culture, real estate, business and health with a focus on human-interest stories.