Nick Lepore sinks his teeth into a mountain of cheeseburger: a massive, double-patty concoction overflowing with onions, pickles and melty American cheese on a fluffy bun.
After a few bites, he moves on to a second sandwich, served by a popular Asbury Park weekend brunch spot that opened on a Wednesday just for him.
It’s colossal bacon cheeseburger with a single dry-aged hunk of beef, but Lepore tears through the thing like a man on a mission.
Which he is — the Toms River native is hellbent on eating a burger every single day. For an entire year. In tandem with his militaristic bodybuilding routine.
Call him the hamburger Hulk.
But Lepore isn’t just doing it for the fitness. He’s doing it for the ‘gram, documenting the entire project on social media with eyes on a career in content creation that will blend his love of bodybuilding and food.
“You have to post more frequently to grow your following, so what easier way to be able to post every day than to eat a burger every day?” Lepore said. “And someone in shape eating a burger every day? I knew that would drum up attention.”
Lepore, 31, started his burger journey on Dec. 11, 2018 and by the time he was 100 days in, restaurants and brands were reaching out to him on social media asking him to try their burgers and toppings. He’s since inked brand deals with Pat LaFrieda meats and Martin’s potato rolls, with others in the works. He’s tried burgers across the country, from Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia all the way to Miami, Los Angeles and Seattle. Sometimes he pays for the meals himself, sometimes it’s on the house.
With his aptly named @burger.buff Instagram account now up to 10,000 followers, Lepore has become enough of a local celebrity that Cardinal Provisions in Asbury Park couldn’t wait for him to try a couple new burgers they’re adding to the menu.
But Lepore doesn’t look like any old fatty food fiend. He’s a trim 160 pounds teeming with muscle and tattoos, like he stumbled out of the nearest CrossFit gym.
Lepore says his passion for burgers, an American staple, actually came from visits overseas.
Lepore was traveling around the globe as a marketing specialist for New Jersey-based supplement company Universal Nutrition when he realized that wherever he went in the world, be it the United Arab Emirates, Germany or China, there were burgers. It was Dubai’s up-and-coming burger culture that helped him realize how universal the sandwich is, and that spending a year eating and documenting them could have wide-spread appeal and help create a social media presence.
“It kind of made me realize that it’s a food that everyone loves in every single country. It may not be huge in like Italy or places like that, but there are still burgers,” Lepore said. “I felt it was a good choice because everyone can relate to it.”
Burned out from bodybuilding, he decided to move back home and start his burger quest. Lepore’s mother, a nurse, wasn’t thrilled with his plan.
Her advice? “Don’t die,” Lepore recalls, before insisting she check his blood pressure weekly.
His doctor wouldn’t condone the plan either, but helped nonetheless. Blood work was done before the start of the burger journey, and will be done again the end for comparison, akin to the documentary “Super Size Me,” which was part of Lepore’s inspiration for the project. He is indeed tracking his blood pressure as he goes, and so far all his health markers are the same or better than they were before he began.
“I’m not saying burgers are healthy, I’m saying you really have to audit what you’re eating throughout the whole day, your activity levels,” Lepore said. “You can indulge in things throughout the day, but what are you eating for the other three or four meals a day, and are you training, are you working out?”
The four other meals Lepore eats a day are healthier to compensate for his daily burger, typically featuring eggs, steak, chicken or ground beef. He’s also in the gym training almost every day on a bodybuilder’s training regimen, with hopes of returning to competition in 2020.
Not every burger Lepore munches is found at a fancy locale. Five Guys, Shake Shack and McDonald’s are his go-to fast food spots. He’s not a fan of Burger King (where he had his worst burger of the year, a Halloween “Nightmare Burger” with a green bun and fried chicken atop the patty) or White Castle (“it has its place in time, probably 3 a.m. when you’re drunk,” he says). His favorite burger thus far was at Porterhouse, a steakhouse in Manhattan, which he called a “perfect storm of not too fancy, but really high quality.”
The only requirement for Lepore’s burgers is that they’re beef. Burger fans are constantly clamoring for him to try an Impossible or Beyond Burger. That’s not happening, he says.
“I’d rather take an ice pick to the eyeball,” Lepore said. “I don’t judge anyone for what they want to eat but I personally would never try it. I do make jokes about it, but it’s all in fun. I personally think a high quality beef is healthier than a fake burger.”
Lepore insists he isn’t sick of burgers. The hardest part of this venture? Just finding time for a burger every single day.
“Sometimes it will be 10 o’clock at night and I’ll be like, s***, I didn’t have a burger yet,” Lepore said. “I’ll go to Wendy’s, I’ll go to Five Guys, I’ll make one at home.”
Lepore says making a good burger is simple, but the further he explains the more complicated it gets.
• Start with a fresh bun, preferably a potato roll.
• Get quality beef, “whether it’s a chuck/brisket/short rib blend or dry-aged meat, even if it’s just fresh, not frozen meat.”
• Cook the meat medium rare, “but with smashed or thin patties you kind of have to have some leeway with that.”
• Put the cheese on the burger while it’s cooking, otherwise “it’s just a cold piece of cheese on the burger. I hate that.”
If you do those things right?
“I’ll eat that any day,” Lepore said.
Jeremy Schneider may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @J_Schneider. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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