Christian Mikkelsen returned to his hometown of Wenatchee with a vision: a classic local burger joint with a modern twist.
His drive-thru offers smashed burgers, chicken and a standard array of sides. What sets Mission Burger & Chicken apart from your typical burger joint or eatery is the ingredients they use.
Mikkelsen partners with Post 5 Cattle Co. in Ephrata to get fresh, local beef for their burgers. The beef is then ground in-house for the perfect smashburger consistency. Smashed burgers are made by taking a ball of ground beef and smashing it down on a hot skillet. The result is a thin, flavorful burger that saw a surge in popularity a few years ago.
“We like to grind our meat here so we can get the fat content right where we like it so they cook fast and stay juicy,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s all about the caramelization on the meat.”
They also source buns locally from Bosket Bread in Leavenworth, and all seasoning blends, rubs and burger toppers are done in-house
“We do everything. We cure and smoke the bacon and pastrami. All the peppers that you can add to your burger we char, peel and chop,” Mikkelsen said. “You want people to taste that difference, too. I want people to get what they’re paying for.”
Mission Burger combines Mikkelsen’s roots in fast food with his experience in culinary school and at award-winning restaurants abroad. He started at EZ’s Burger in Wenatchee when he was 16. Later, he attended the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, and worked abroad as a cook.
“That’s where I learned to butcher chickens, how to cut vegetables nicely and about presentation and putting flavors together,” he said.
He continued to learn in New Zealand.
Working at a restaurant on a dairy farm in New Zealand, Mikkelsen got experience sourcing local ingredients and building unique flavor profiles. He said he took the lessons he learned there and applied them to Mission Burger. One of the biggest lessons was to keep these things simple by using fresh food.
“It’s about starting with a really nice product to start with and then getting the most out of that product,” he said. “You can go to so many places to get a burger, but I wanted this burger to be the best-tasting beef in town.”
Mission Burger opened in July 2021 without much fanfare.
“We put a banner on the front of the building five days before we opened,” he said. “Five minutes before we opened we had a line.”
The crew wasn't fully ready for the rush, said Mikkelsen. For the first few weeks, they sold out almost daily.
“I spent the first five months asking myself every day, ‘Are they going to stop coming tomorrow?’ Because once they stop coming, it’s over,” he said. “The first three to six months basically makes you or breaks you.”
Business has been steady. In October 2022 they sold 2,451 smashburgers and around 500 chicken sandwiches.
Mikkelsen grew up in the area. His family owned orchards from Rock Island to Dryden, growing pears, cherries and apples. Getting to be a part of the community is what moved him to open a restaurant here.
In 2021, the timing was right. People were ready for local, fresh options.
“Five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to open and be successful. People care more now about what they’re eating and where their money is going,” he said. “Not everything I buy and serve is local, it can’t be, but I try where I can. The meat costs me more, but it’s part of the mission.”
Mikkelsen leases the building, located on South Wenatchee Avenue, from the Wenatchee Reclamation District. The kitchen is about 800 square feet and there’s no indoor seating. Including himself, seven full-time employees and four part-time employees keep the drive-thru running six days a week.
Mikkelsen said he might pursue other restaurant ideas in the future, but he wanted to start with burgers.
“Fast food is where I came from. For a long time, I thought it would be really cool to do a hometown burger joint. The idea is that it’s familiar but fresh, both the food we serve and the idea of the hometown burger joint,” he said. “To do this in the hometown I grew up in, it’s nice. I have friends here, people know me.”