NAPLES, Fla — The man who created one of the most celebrated burger places in Southwest Florida says what makes his restaurant special, is something you can’t taste.
“It’s all pride,” Todd Brooks says. "It’s all passion. It’s all hospitality. And then it’s a great burger.”
It’s hard to argue with his success. Since he opened Brooks Burgers in Naples in 2010, local newspapers and magazines, as well as national websites have ranked Brooks’ burgers best.
But it took time and a lot of risks to get his business cooking. We’re featuring Brooks’ story as part of our Southwest Florida Reinvented series. You told us you wanted to see stories about people who lost everything in the recession, or created something out of nothing, or thought they had a better way of doing things and later found success.
Brooks’ reinvention began in the Midwest.
"I moved my way up to being a vice president of a large company in Kansas City,” he says.
He says he managed several upscale restaurants there. He liked the work, but it got tougher when he and his wife started a family. And the recession hurt too. So he decided to slow things down a little and buy a bistro in Naples.
"I came down about two months ahead of my family. We had a deal set with a restaurant we were purchasing, and when I got here I found out it was all fraudulent. All the numbers were made up and the lease wasn't what it was supposed to be,” he says. “The whole deal fell apart."
“And I called my wife and I was like, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do.’”
Brooks lost a lot of money in the failed deal. A couple of days later, still distraught, he walked into a downtown Naples burger joint called Lindburgers.
On a whim, he used what money he had left and bought the place.
“My wife was petrified. And I would like to say I wasn’t nervous, but I was nervous about it,” he says.
"We literally had to rent a house. We had no car. I had to buy a used scooter to get back and forth to work because we were down to like no money.”
And the tough times were just starting. He and his wife remodeled the building and rewrote the menu. They called the new place Brooks Burgers.
“The kids did their homework here five days a week for two hours after school. There were many nights when they just sat at the bar and watched tv because the both of us were working. I was cooking and she was serving. Literally, that was the staff.”
He says it was a struggle to pay the bills for a year and a half. But Todd believed in the quality of his burgers and what his restaurant stood for.
“My thing is, I’m going to shake every single person’s hand who walks through this door. We’re going to talk to every single table. Nobody’s going to leave here unhappy. And if they do, we need to make sure we know about it and why it happened.”
That commitment to customer service made his restaurant a hit online first. About two years in, Brooks Burgers suddenly shot up the rankings on Trip Advisor. Todd was on vacation when he got the call that the website had named his place as one of the top ten burger places in the country.
“I looked at my wife and I was like, ‘pack your bags. So we literally packed our bags and came back. And our sales doubled overnight,” he says.
The man who managed upscale seafood and steak restaurants reinvented himself into the owner of a hot little burger place. Soon, people were coming to Naples, just to have one of his burgers. And they kept coming back.
Brooks is now a brand. As of October 2019, he has four restaurants and plans to open more in the region. A lot has changed since the days he and his wife were doing everything on their own. But his recipe for success has stayed the same.
“If you care about what you do, you don’t have to be the best at it, because you will become the best."