A documentary about Alberta’s most iconic fast-food chain is about to premiere in an Edmonton theater, and it looks incredible.
The Lebanese Burger Mafia examines the history of the Burger Baron, including how it all began, the family that took it over, how it went rogue, its cult following, and its claim to fame — the mushroom burger.
The film was directed by Omar Mouallem, a journalist whose family opened High Prarie, Alberta’s first Burger Baron, in 1987. His work to uncover the convoluted history of the Burger Baron inspired him to create this documentary.
The first Burger Baron was opened in 1956 by an Irish-American entrepreneur, Jack McDonnell, who wanted to create the “McDonald’s of the North.” Over the next four years, the chain rapidly expanded, opening more than 30 franchises in eight Canadian provinces and US states.
Unfortunately, in 1961, The Burger Baron Company Ltd. collapsed under the weight of its massive growth and its intellectual properties were effectively orphaned in bankruptcy.
In 1965, Riad “Rudy” Kemaldean bought his first Burger Baron in Edmonton, seven years after moving to Canada from Lebanon. The location flourished and, as a result, laid the foundation for the Burger Baron that we know and love today.
Over the next few years, Kemaldean would build more locations and recruit relatives from afar to come and manage them. During the Lebanese Civil War, Burger Baron also became a refuge in 1976 for more than 30 of Kemaldean’s relatives and friends, who were given jobs at various Burger Baron locations upon arriving in Canada.
By 1980, recipes and trade secrets were shared between Lebanese immigrants, and the chain became dominated by a loose network of Arab families. As Burger Baron thrived in small towns, locations became vastly different from one another, creating confusion and quality control issues.
“Uncle Rudy tries to reign it in but is challenged by his own charitableness. Despite pressures from his brothers and nephews to exert some control, Rudy will not stand in the way of immigrants trying to do for their families what the Burger Baron did for him,” the documentary website reads.
As for the rest of history, it’s wild, and you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
The fact that Burger Baron locations vary from one to another is well-known by Albertans and, arguably, part of its charm. Even famous Albertans are aware of this, as Nickleback’s Chad Kroeger noted when he told the Daily Hive that the Burger Baron on 118th Avenue in Edmonton has the best mushroom burger.
The documentary also dives into that delicious, savory secret mushroom burger recipe.
This will definitely be a film worth checking out, and we can’t wait to see its debut. The Lebanese Burger Mafia will premiere on May 14 at the Metro Cinema as the closing film of the Northwestfest International Documentary Film Festival in Edmonton.
The Lebanese Burger Mafia
when: May 14
where: Metro Cinema — 8712 109th Street NW, Edmonton
Time: 7 p.m
Tickets: $14; get them here