Trump's cheeseburger in Japan still drawing lines

Credit: Eugene Hoshiko

Credit: Eugene Hoshiko

TOKYO (AP) — Haruyuki Sano traveled 1 ½ hours for a taste of the same cheeseburger U.S. President Donald Trump ate with Japan's prime minister during his visit last week.

"It tasted great, like steak," the pastry-maker said after savoring the 100 percent U.S. Angus beef Colby Jack Cheeseburger at Tokyo's tiny Munch's Burger Shack on Thursday.

The lines out the door during lunchtime are getting longer than ever, thanks to Trump.

Trump's tough talk on issues such as trade and security tend to get a mixed response in Japan, which sees the U.S. as its most important ally and partner. But Trump's love for the Japanese take on the all-American hamburger is striking a chord with many here.

"I like Trump," said Sano, stressing that putting one's country first amid globalization made a lot of sense, and Japan should do that, too.

While better known for sushi, soba and tempura, Japan has had a long love affair with American food. So-called "premium burgers," which are twice the price or more of fast-food versions, are growing popular.

The "President Trump Set," a new addition to the menu at Munch's Burger, includes a serving of coleslaw and a side of fries with the cheeseburger and sells for 1,400 yen ($12). The juicy beef patty comes layered with crisp lettuce, melted cheese and tomato between hot soft buns.

These days, it's one of the most popular orders, says owner-cum-chef Yutaka Yanagisawa, who recalls Trump shaking his hand after eating the burger and saying, "Very good. Very good."

"I felt so honored," he said, adding that all he could muster in reply was "thank you."

Since Trump wanted his meat well-done, that's how the order was placed for both burgers in case the servings get mixed up on the table.

"That would have been a disaster," Yanagisawa said with a laugh.

Credit: Eugene Hoshiko

Credit: Eugene Hoshiko

He has no idea why he was chosen. One of his two stores is near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, but it was the Japanese Foreign Ministry that reached out to him.

Yanagisawa was asked to bring the ingredients and his equipment to prepare the burgers, not just for the leaders but for an entourage of about 20 people, at a kitchen at the country club where the leaders were dining, he said.

The security checks were surprisingly simple, with no metal detectors, although a Trump staff member checked the food and watched the entire time he was cooking, he said.

The experience of eating out in Tokyo is increasingly about fun storytelling, such as sharing Instagram photos of meals, said Jotaro Fujii, a Tokyo-based food consultant and the founder of Subway Japan.

And so the "Trump effect" for the humble burger joint is expected to be huge.

"Talk of lines brings more lines," said Fujii. "Rather than mere taste, the value and joy come from being able to say: I had the same burger as Trump."

Munch's Burger Shack is up against some competition. Not only are there the ubiquitous McDonald's and Burger King chains, and relative newcomer Shake Shack, but Japanese burger joints are popping up, such as Shake Tree, which serves a breadless burger.

Yanagisawa's dream is to open a restaurant in New York. He hopes to show what Japanese sensitivity and attention to detail can bring to a burger.

"It must have that handmade element," he said. "More than anything, it is about the feelings you put in for the customer, in each and every burger."