Hamburger Disco

Hamburger Disco
Words by Alan Ng
Photography by Agnon Wong


Hamburger Disco is a fresh new brand in Vancouver and aims to bring the culture of hamburgers to the next level. Hamburger Disco incorporates a lot of unique designs and puts a nice twist to burgers. The justalilhype! Crew had a chance to talk to Matt, Jay, and Rumell about their passion, their favorite burgers, and how burgers and discos forms a good mix.

Can you please describe yourself to our readers?

J: We are just average guys. We wanted to do something really cool and call it our own. Starting up Hamburger Disco was probably the easiest way to do so; we can express ourselves artistically, personally, and everything like that. It gives us something to do, other than sitting at home playing video games, which is pretty much what we all do. I am not evening joking dude. I mean these two work for Electronic Arts, right? So all they do is play video games all day. It gives us something to do in our spare time, right?

M: Me, personally – I’d say I am a big kid. A lot of that shows in Hamburger Disco. You get your cartoony graphics, and you get your fun themes; I still like Saturday morning cartoons, you know? Still like toys and action figures, Rubix cubes… stuff like that.

R: I guess I am just a regular guy; I am kind of weird in my own way. I don’t have anything that stands me out from the others. I work for a video game company as well, and I don’t know. What else can I say?

J: He’s rich!

M: He won the lottery two years ago, and doesn’t like to talk about it.

Did you actually win the lottery?

R: No

What sparked the creation of the Hamburger Disco brand?

M: In 2006, I went on a trip to Japan to visit some family. Obviously Tokyo is the best place to shop. I went to all the districts in Tokyo; we went shopping everywhere and it was awesome. I noticed that a lot of places had Hamburgers; there were Hamburger pencil cases, Hamburger ear muffs, plush toys, and characters – like Hamburgers with little eyes on them. I mean, the hamburger is very iconic. I was like, why did we not have this fascination here? What really drew me in was this t-shirt which I saw on my way coming back to Vancouver.  It was a regular white tee with a hamburger printed on it in flock, and it was really cool. I was like we need something like this back home, and yea – that’s how it started.

I came up with the name Hamburger Disco and told these guys. They automatically caught on to it and it from then everything else was pretty organic.

J: As Matt was saying earlier, hamburgers in Japan were so prominent. It seems like after we started Hamburger Disco, we all got this attention from everywhere – even people all the way from France. We got random comments from everywhere, like “I really like your ideas” and “I really like hamburgers”.

M: I mean hamburger culture in itself is huge. Not only do people love how a hamburger looks but the whole culture is evolving. There are blogs out there that dedicated to Hamburgers.

J: There are actually food blogs out there that would like to feature us, not because we make hamburgers but because of our designs.

Why disco? How does that incorporate with your brand identity?

J: Oh man, I mean, why not? Why not disco? I think disco, in a sense, is getting big too. When we came up with the name Hamburger Disco, people who heard it thought it sounded like fun. Pretty much what we are trying to do is convey good clean fun, and disco does have that.

M: When you think of hamburger joints back in the 1950’s, it was the drive-ins – like those fast food places where people would actually deliver food to your car – “The happy go lucky times”.  And then you get disco which is like the 70’s where everything was crazy, you know? Partying non-stop. We wanted to mix the aesthetics of both of them together. You got the good clean fun of the 50’s and the non-stop partying of the 70’s. Put that into the same box.

You guys have a lot of different interesting designs, who does the designs and how do the concepts come up?

J: When it comes to designing, it’s a whole mix. A lot of the stuff we also do is in collaboration with various artists. We’ll either commission something we visualize and get them to sketch it or we’ll do an initial sketch, then they put it into digital format and have their input. We make sure we pick guys that we have confidence in on what they do as an artist.

M: How the process pretty much goes is that the three of us come together and brainstorm with abstract ideas, and then we translate it to our roster of artists.

R: We always like to check out people’s art and search for upcoming artists and stuff like that.

J: Yea, we visit a lot of art exhibition and craft fairs. We like to work a bit more with locals; we support local artists. I mean its cool working with international ones because you get that whole different feel but we do want to support local artists.  We like having that local aspect.

M: Vancouver is amazing for artists; it has an amazing pool of great artists.

J: Yea, we just met a girl from Emily Carr. A lot of people from Emily Carr are really talented.

What is your favourite design out of Hamburger Disco up to this date?

J: I like “Freaky Friday” because of how it’s different. The way how Freaky Friday is presented – it’s more the direction I like. Matt likes his cartoons. Rumell likes his video games. I am more of the person that likes the HYPE stuff – stuff that you find on Hypebeast, stuff that you find at GoodFoot, and Livestock. “Freaky Friday” is more of the direction that I prefer because we are going to do a HYPE thing, a cute thing, “sleep with everyone” kind of thing.

M: Not trying to be a biter but “Freaky Friday” is also my favourite tee. Just because it was such a good idea when it came about.

J: Matt actually came with the “Freaky Friday” idea. I got pretty excited when I first drew it out. I thought it was awesome and knew it was going to sell. It has been one of our fastest sellers so far.

R: My favourite shirt is still the MJ shirt. I loved MJ ever since and I love the colors on the shirt. It’s so vibrant and stuff. The design is definitely fun, and MJ really shows it as a great artist. “Freaky Friday”, I agree is the direction on where Hamburger Disco is going.

How have social media and the internet help the success and launch of Hamburger Disco and what roll does it play in your brand’s development?

M: Without the net we would have never been able to hit some of the places we bring our brand to. We have hit many places and it’s all because of social networking along with our website. We try to hit some blogs; we hit different kinds of blogs.

Were there any challenges at the start?

J: Well obviously at the beginning; any new company that starts up has challenges. I think what made it for us at the beginning was using international artists. When you collaborate with international artists, you get their fan base. Artists have their own support already, they have their own blogs, and they have their own websites. A lot of people will buy things that they work for. We’re also pretty lucky that we have the hamburger as our icon.

Can you tell us a bit more about your website and the blog you run online?

J: I do most of the blogs everyday – mostly. But Matt and Jay also contribute as well. I mean with blogs, we write about stuff that other people feature, videos on YouTube that you come across, and stuff that people post on Facebook that you come across. Just things we are interested in.

R: We want people to come to our site, even if you are not buying anything. We want people to know what we are about. Eventually when we get bigger, we would like to have a blog about our personal stuff. We do that too once in a while. We want people to check stuff we like and that’s how we kind of build a community.

J: We do try to have a personal aspect to stuff we blog about. I like to blog about things that I think is cool.

M: We always add a personal touch to it; it will always be from our point of view.

Right now you guys use American Apparel T-Shirts. Why do you use that and will this trend continue?

J: When it comes to product development and stuff like that, a lot of people support it; a lot of people support how it’s not sweat shop made. Compared to other brands right now, AA is really the best choice you can go with. Even if it’s a bit more expensive, we want people to think that we work with a more high quality material, and not sweat shop stuff. People like having that. Everyone can go overseas and make a shirt from there. But A) you won’t get the quality that you want and B) a lot of people just don’t like getting stuff from overseas because of the fact that they’re largely from sweatshops.

We have thought about cut and sew as well but you run into a problem where you do your own measurements and people won’t fit your stuff so you’re going to have to deal with that.  AA does a good job with that.

M: Yea American Apparel has a really nice cut. There’s nothing worse than going to a store and buying a T-Shirt design you really like but it looks like you’re wearing a box.

For most brands when they start up they usually stick with Tees, do you guys have motives to move on to other apparels?

M: Yea, we do have other stuff in the works right now. We are not sure if we want to reveal them. Jay has been working with a lot of non tee designs. The problem is when you run into a season like winter, not a lot of people wear T-Shirts, and so you’ve got to lay it out. Right now, Jay is working hard on a non tee based design.

J: That’s in the works. In the mean time, we are still trying to focus on branding with our t-shirts. We really believe in our designs and our shirts; so it’s pretty much going to take us as far as we go when it comes to it. A lot of our artists do have other experience in working with things other than tees. I mean it’s only a matter of time when we decide to do stuff like that.

Speaking of the history of Hamburgers, you guys posted a small timeline of how Hamburgers come to be. What’s the next big step of the Hamburger Disco timeline?

R: I think, right now we are focusing on building our brand. We have already been in talks with a few stores, but our next steps are to become better known. We just want to build our brand now and who knows where we are going to go from there.

M:  Our next step is to focus on building our market. Vancouver is so huge. We really want to get in and focus on the Vancouver market; we want people to find Hamburger Disco to be relatable with Vancouver, in terms of t-shirts and a clothing brand.

J: The reason for that is we do have brands that we do look up to when we design. One of the bigger brands that we look up to is Johnny Cupcakes. I mean when you think about a T-Shirt company in Boston, you think about Johnny Cupcakes. No one else is doing it in Boston like them. I want to do what he did in Boston, but in Vancouver.

M: If you’re not big in your home town, then why does it matter if you’re big anywhere else?

J: It’s the support that you get from locals artists. Working with the people that you meet at shows, just networking, you can put Vancouver on the map. Vancouver from a fashion standpoint is relatively small. We are like a little pin. It’s going to be hard work obviously. It will be a lot of hard work. We won’t be able to do it ourselves but I think if Vancouve works as a team with all the artists that do that stuff then we can probably do it.

I mean I’ve heard stories where people are going to the states and saying how the Olympics are in Vancouver, and people’s responses were like “Where’s Vancouver?” They think it’s still in Washington. People really don’t know where Vancouver is. Thanks to the Olympics, we are kind of on the map.

M: I’ve talked to a lot of people in the East coast and they had no idea.

J: It’s something that we eventually all want to do, right? We all love Vancouver and we all grew up here. Again, it’s like what Matt said, if you are not going to make it in your home time you are not going to make it big anywhere else.

Looking at your designs right now, they are definitely really fresh and very original. What plans do you think you guys have implanted to keep the originality for your designs? What plans do you have to maintain the trueness of Hamburger Disco as it launches off?

M: As you were saying, when you are looking at a lot of brands, they start off and look good. I think they fall into thinking that whatever they print people would like you know? They aren’t there to please their fans anymore. They’re just releasing tees and clothing as they go just to please the masses I guess, and that’s how you get stale.

In the end it just comes down to the designs and working with artists who are upcoming and talented, who are not doing what everyone else is doing.

J: We also follow the scene a lot. We are trend followers as well. There are lots of cool brands that we follow. You will see a lot of people that do things that every brand will do. You don’t want to follow that kind of thing because you are just going to look like any other brand. That’s why we chose the Hamburger; we don’t see that in every brand. That’s the direction we kind of chose when coming up with fresh ideas. A lot of people have that trend of being trend-followers and not trend-setters, you see what I mean?

M: And it’s not like we’re going against the grain like how everyone’s going against the grain. We’re really here to go against a third, different, grain.

What advices do you have for people starting up their own brand?

J: There’s a piece of advice that someone from Toronto who was in the t-shirt industry gave us… He said “Don’t live with yourself, sleep with everyone.” Sleeping with everyone until you get different printers, different brands and styles and apparel – try it. Go to different screen printers and put on a small batch. The quality you get – make sure you keep it consistent. I mean sleep with everyone and try to find out where your group is. We had a printer we used to work with based out of Vancouver. They were doing well until we found someone else. We will go back and forth because we want to support local business and stuff like that, but again, if you’re sleeping with everyone, you are going to get everything.

M: From a design perspective… I’m not sure if you went to the Hypebeast forums back when they had a section for upcoming brands. Sometimes there would be some really bad brands and it’s obvious. People would give those brands feedback, and they just wouldn’t take it. That’s something you’ve got to take. You have to take everyone’s feedback. You have to focus on your designs because the worst thing that can happen to upcoming brands is creating a huge stockpile of something that does not sell – like stacks of 500 pre-packaged tees with tags that no one wants, you know?

J: Just to add on what he’s saying. Especially stuff like that, we are lucky enough to get a lot of good feedback. At the same time, I want to know about the other side as well. I want to know what we are doing wrong, and what we can do to improve. Let’s face it, not everyone’s going to believe your brand; you want to make sure you cater yourself to all aspects. We want to be able to sleep with everyone. We want to have our market and work with everyone that wants to be involved in Hamburger Disco. I mean taking constructive criticism is the key. People that look at your brand are potential consumers and buyers. If you want to be able to sell your product, you have to listen.

M: There’s always two parts when you start a company like this. There’s the business side and there’s the artistic design/fun side. What happens is that you see a lot of artists that get together and start a clothing company and the question is that, when it comes to the business end: how do you push those tees and make people wear them? A lot of brands run into that problem.

Where can you get Hamburger Disco?

M: Right now you can get them online; we are also doing a bunch of shows. We are trying to get involved in the craft scene of Vancouver. It’s a huge scene.

J: We never knew how big it would be until we started going to the shows. The following and the amount of people that go there is huge. Again, that can go to the tips of emerging brands: Go to places that support local artists and brands – these craft fairs are really huge. You never know who may attend these shows – it could be a buyer; if you are discovered, then you are pretty much set.

What was the stepping stone of Hamburger Disco?

M: When we first started out, we sold a lot of shirts online. We made a lot of sales from that and we also sold to our friends. That was fun; we were trucking along and making money for each next design. Our first sale was a private sale at Electronic Arts, where we had a table. The response was overwhelming. We brought in all of our tees for a day and we sold like…

J: Out of all the stock we had during that time, we probably sold like 2/3rds of it. It was an overwhelming response. We didn’t know what to expect but that was when we thought maybe we’ve got to think outside the box and maybe we can take this brand really far

M: I think at that moment we were getting people walking by, and liking our designs. And that’s when we truly thought: “People like our designs”- we were going somewhere with this. At first, it was kind of like a hobby and since then we’ve kind of put all of our efforts in it. We’ve worked really hard to make it work. That’s kind of the moment when we realized that.

M: I mean counting the money too…

*Everyone laughs

Can you tell our readers what your favourite burger in a fast food sense and a restaurant sense?

M: I’m not sure if it’s “high-class,” but my favourite “high-class” burger is from this restaurant in Victoria, called The Pink Bicycle. I recently went there to visit my sister and it was voted Victoria’s best Hamburger in like 2008 or something.  It was literally the best Hamburger that I had ever had. Second would be the Fairmont in Banff, Alberta. They have an amazing burger served with criss cross fries. That was a pretty upscale burger.

In terms of fast food, this is kind of funny; I’ve always wanted to go to White Castle. I guess before Hamburger Disco started. I thought about the movie, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Ever since that came up, I have always wanted to go to White Castle. A year ago, I went to New Jersey for work and I thought “Okay, all I want to do for this trip is to go downtown and try White Castle”. So, I was in the cab with the cab driver. The cab was already pretty expensive and this guy couldn’t find the White Castle; then he was like “Why don’t we just go to Dunkin Donut’s? It’s just as good!” I was getting angry; I had just got here and that was all I wanted to do. He couldn’t find the place and just dropped me off at my hotel. I did my work and on my way home, I was running late going to the airport. We passed by the White Castle at last, while stopped at a red light. The cab driver saw me looking at it with my sad eyes. He asked me if I wanted to go there. And I was said no. He said “It’s just going to take five minutes”, I told him I couldn’t. I took a photo and that was it. A couple months later, I went to Atlanta, and as soon as I got out of the airport. I talked to the cab driver and was like “Take me to your closest White Castle, please.” Haha, Then he spoke to this other cab driver and asked him if there was a White Castle there. “We have something that’s called a Crystals – it’s similar”. I was like “Take me to the hotel”. That was pretty sad, but, a month ago… I finally went to White Castle and it was the greatest moment of my life. I went to New Jersey for work, and I was thinking, before going to the Airport, “I don’t care if I miss my flight. We are going to White Castle.” So we drove all the way to the shady part of town and found a White Castle, walked in, and it was amazing.  The hamburger was awesome, it was like 64 cents.

R: For me, it was when I went to New York. It wasn’t really up scale but I am a big turkey guy. There was this place called Cantina in New York and it was awesome.

For fast food, I would say classic Big Mac. Something I’ve recently heard and tried. I am not sure if this is appropriate but it’s called the McGangBang. So you take like a double cheese burger and you put a Jr.Chicken inside- Then you put the entire Jr.Chicken with the buns in; so that’s like four buns, two patties, and one chicken patty. That’s what it’s called: The McGangBang, it’s pretty good and it’s only $1.39 x 2, so whatever. Try it.

J: I like your local joints like Fatburger, and like Vera’s. I like Splitz Grill on Main Street too. I am also a big fan of just burgers from Red Robins. I think the best burger that I had was probably…

M: Well nothing beats a barbeque!

J: Yea. When we have barbeques, we get the best kinds of meat. I mean just the home made burgers are really good.

Have you ever got hungry from looking at your shirts?

M: Definitely.

J: That’s why we have “Do not eat this shirt” as a slogan before one of our designs.

What is HYPE?

J: HYPE is trendy. Hype is more related to stuff that is more rich and balling. I guess Hamburger Disco is HYPE. Whatever you picture it to be.

M: HYPE is taking Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy, and all those other brands, and putting them in a box. You have this box, and you put it to the side. Everything else around it in the world is HYPE.

J: Not to hate on that – a lot of people like those brands. When we went to Vegas, you see a lot of girls wearing that brand, and it seems like they don’t even want to talk to you if you don’t comply with that brand.

There are brands out there that do it right though. We have a brand that we know that we are good friends with – Hardihood. It’s unfortunate that they are tied in with aspects of Ed Hardy and Christian Audigier. Go to Below the Belt and they’re on the same rack as Hardihood. But these guys are really nice and this brand knows what they are doing; their stuff is really good.

M: Yea, Love Death and Sacrifice by Michael Chen; they are our friends as well.

R: Call of Duty! I think just anything that looks good and is in your face. I think we are not that much HYPE but I think it’s so big and it’s in your dance. I think something that looks so good, is HYPE.

Matt to Rumell: What’s HYPE man? One thing?

Jay to Rumell: Call of Duty? How many hours have you logged in?

R: I don’t even play guys!