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#HotDocs23 Review: The Lebanese Burger Mafia

May 7, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2023 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 27th to May 7th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

The Lebanese Burger Mafia is an enjoyable look at the history of Burger Baron, an Alberta fast food franchise that is not really a franchise, with locations scattered across the Prairies. The film also serves as a personal story for filmmaker Omar Mouallem, whose father owned a Buger Baron restaurant.

The film charts the restaurant’s origins back to Irish-American Jack McDonnell, who moved to Calgary and tried to start a burger chain to compete with McDonalds, before going bankrupt. But the franchise carried on through a series of independently run restaurants that all borrowed the same name, logo, and mushroom burger recipe. What they also had in common is that the restaurants were all owned by Lebanese immigrant families, like Mouallem’s.

Mouallem interviews family members, other restaurant owners, and aficionados of the Burger Baron brand, who not only have their favourite food items but also favourite locations, with each one a little different. The one thing they are famous for is their mushroom burger, with a secret sauce that may or may not just be made from a can of Campbell’s mushroom soup.

The documentary does feel a little too loose at times, but it’s also kind of a shaggy dog story, so sort of gets away with it. Mouallem’s film takes on a playful quality as he questions who is the rightful heir to the Burger Baron crown, but The Lebanese Burger Mafia is at its best and most satisfying when showing how this scrappy chain of restaurants has allowed many immigrant families to live the Canadian Dream.

Screenings: No more festival screenings, but the film will be streaming online across Canada from May 5th to 9th, and tickets can be purchased here.

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