Cory McPherson ’96, Executive Chef/Owner

Cory McPherson ’96, Executive Chef/Owner, WilliamsBurger
Cory McPherson ’96, Executive Chef/Owner, WilliamsBurger

Risking a successful career and your life’s savings to open your own burger business isn’t for everyone. But then, not everyone has Cory McPherson’s drive and confidence.

After working for 20 years in restaurants and hotels, Cory had a vision, a business plan, and a location picked out on a quiet corner in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY—but no investors. At that time, his building in the now-trendy neighborhood was “in an area of old abandoned lofts, an area no one would even step foot in. It was just starting to get its wings.” But Cory was determined, and so he took a deep breath, sold his condo, and used the profits to launch WilliamsBurger in 2008.

“I told my lawyer, ‘I know how to do all the fancy stuff, but I’m going back to what I was doing when I was a teenager—flipping burgers,’” he says. “I wanted to do a burger done right, and I felt like that concept would get more people in the door than a fancier place would.”

The first year or two, business was fairly quiet—in part because the economic downturn had begun just months after WilliamsBurger opened. But Cory persevered, and over time, word got out, more people began moving into the neighborhood, and everything just fell into place.

“The culinary scene in Williamsburg is on fire now,” he says. “The influx of new high rises, condos, and money means there are more restaurants. But I think that in this neighborhood, if you’re too polished, too Park Avenue, people aren’t necessarily going to come. They want the grungy look, the graffiti, the exposed brick.”

Cory knows a little about polished, high-end cuisine—he’s prepared it at places such as The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead; Lettuce Entertain You; Nava; the Cherokee Town and Country Club; 70 Park Avenue; and the Fitzpatrick Hotel Group. Throughout his career, he also had the good fortune to work for many talented chefs. Cory points to Kevin Rathbun, who he worked for at Nava in Atlanta, GA; and Alviero Fiaschi, who was chef at the Logan Inn in New Hope, PA, as two of his biggest influences.

It was while Cory was working for Chef Fiaschi very early in his career that he toured the CIA campus. When he came back to work and told Chef Fiaschi how excited he was, the chef was upset—because he didn’t want to lose a good worker. “After 10 minutes of yelling, he said to me, ‘This is the best thing you could do. You need to go to the CIA and then you need to go to New York City to work,’” Cory says.

So, at the age of 22, he enrolled at the CIA and proceeded to get as much as possible from his education, learning everything from cooking fundamentals to menu development to how to land an interview and a job. “The CIA puts you on such another level,” he says. “It opened so many doors for me and put me at the front of the line with employers. When you graduate, you want to conquer the world.”

And that’s just what Cory’s doing, one burger at a time.