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Wiinky’s Enters Crowded Burger Field With A Hope, A Prayer, and Angus Beef

by ARLnow.com April 19, 2011 at 5:57 pm 9,311 77 Comments

If a business could survive on earnestness alone, Wiinky’s in Ballston would be around for quite a while.

As it stands now, however, Wiinky’s is a homegrown restaurant concept operating within a very crowded market space — subs, salads and burgers — in a building that has seen a succession of failed restaurants. And they don’t even have a sign yet.

The restaurant is the brainchild of a young George Mason University grad and Arlington native named Ryan, who didn’t want us to use his last name. Ryan — nicknamed “winky” in high school — recently left his job as a manager of a local pizza restaurant to open his own business. He said he wanted to create a “cool spot” that would remind him of the backyard barbecues he used to love as a kid.

“All through college, I worked my way through school by cooking and by managing the pizza place,” Ryan said. “So I decided, hey man, this is my opportunity, this is my shot. ”

With an undergraduate degree in business, a passion for food and some seed money (source undisclosed), Ryan set out to find a well-trafficked but affordable location. He settled on 3902 Wilson Boulevard in Ballston, formerly home to Papi Pollo and Pike Grill. Although not very inviting from the street, the building does offer off-street parking and features a large, clean kitchen where customers can see their burgers being cooked.

“It’s not like I wanted to have a big casual dining place, I kind of wanted just a cool place that people could stop by and grab a bite to eat for lunch,” Ryan said. He added that he hopes the restaurant could also be a spot for first dates and quick meals with the kids.

Wiinky’s main selling point is the quality of the ingredients. Ryan says he uses only certified Black Angus beef for the burgers and hot dogs, hormone-free chicken for the sandwiches and locally-grown produce for the salads. The menu also includes a few unique items like an avocado-and-tomato hot dog and a signature peanut butter-slathered bacon cheeseburger called the Wiink.

(Ryan says he created the Wiink because he loves peanut butter; he was unaware of last year’s peanut butter burger craze in New York City.)

Unlike some of the new gourmet burger joints that keep popping up around Arlington, Ryan says he wanted to create a family-friendly vibe. For that reason, he is planning on rolling out a kid’s menu and has decided not to apply for a license to serve beer or wine. Booze would hurt the image he’s going for, Ryan said.

Sure, there are plenty of kinks for Ryan to work out: The lack of a sign (hopefully arriving next week), the lack of a working web site or Facebook presence (“coming soon”), the lack of drink options (a soda dispenser is on the way), and relatively slow service (although that’s not uncommon for made-to-order burger restaurants and should be getting faster once Ryan hires a few more staff members). There’s also the issue of marketing — or the lack thereof. But Ryan says he’s planning a grand opening next month and notes that he has been sending an employee out around Ballston to hand out buy-one-get-one-free cards.

At the same time, there are things that Wiinky’s is doing well in its first days in business. The curly fries are crisp and tasty, the chili is pleasantly spicy, and the Wiink burger is tasty, unique and incredibly filling. The burger patties themselves are thick and, if you really think about the flavor, seem to contain a bit of backyard barbecue nostalgia. I didn’t try the Angus chili dog, but Ryan insists that it’s as delicious as it sounds. And he says the cheesesteak sub is the best around.

It’s also clear that Ryan has plenty of support from family and friends, several of whom stopped by yesterday evening to drop off flowers, offer encouragement and grab an early dinner.

Wiinky’s is open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11:00 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

  • Best of luck to him. The more meat options the better!

    • SoCo Resident

      I agree. Best wishes to Ryan (no last name given). Hopefully, he will have relish for the burgers which BGR doesn’t at any of its locations. Curly fries, yeah! Good luck Wiinky’s

  • me

    Nice story. Hope this guy succeeds. On the concept, I wonder if a focus on healthy food options would work well there, given the proximity to the gym. Add whole wheat buns, a good veg burger, etc.

    • JamesE

      That burger looks glorious I know where I am eating Saturday.

    • Z

      I was thinking the same thing. Def gonna be hard to compete with sweet green for the health crowd though.

  • AllenB

    I’ll have to try this place… the food looks great in the pics… Good luck, Ryan!

  • certainly a feel good story; props to him.

  • GMo

    My SO is sold on the avocado tomato hotdog. Will def check it out soon.

  • Sounds greasy.


  • Burger

    I’d definitely support a local Burger Joint over the BGR’s of the world that offer less than ideal burgers at high prices.

    • V Dizzle

      Definitely wish him well and will try it out soon, but in fairness 8 of the 12 BGR locations are here… That’s pretty local even though they are franchising (100’s less than 5 Guys so far, which is/was local).

      • SoCo Resident

        Except BGR boasts they do not serve friggin RELISH to put on your hamburger. I WANT RELISH! Can’t they just go to Costco and buy a huge jar of RELISH! Hamburgers, relish, get it? Geez. Talk about made to fail: a hamburger place with no relish!

  • The native

    Sounds awesome. Love me some home grown food.

  • Angus.


  • Tabby


  • CrystalMikey

    I wish him the best of luck and plan to stop by soon!

  • WiinkysCustomer

    Had a Wiink burger today. I prefer a burger shack that puts a little more stock in their buns, but the other ingredients were quality.

  • KellyCantor

    I got their this afternoon and the service and the food were both excellent, I’ll be back soon..

  • MC 703

    Support your local everything

    • CW

      Are gangs, crack dealers, etc. included?

      • CW2

        Damn skippy.

  • GOB

    That’s it. I’m opening up a burger joint that sells cupcakes and frozen yogurt. The market for those 3 items is clearly bottomless.

  • CW

    Definitely a feel-good story, but for a guy with a supposed business degree, I wish he’d taken a few pages from the common sense school of marketing. Namely, that you only get one chance to make a first impression. In that vein, I think it would have served him a bit better to, say, wait until the restaurant had a sign before opening it, or proofread the website before going live. In an area where image is pretty much everything, I wish he’d put a little more into building up some hype before opening.

    Either way, I will of course give the place a try, and I wish him luck.

    • V Dizzle

      Is there another website? The one linked here has like 5 words on it, and most of them are “Wiinky’s”.

      • CW

        Oh wow, ok. In the previous article, a commenter linked to this site: (http://www.wix.com/wiinkys/draft1), which, as the URL notes, is apparently a draft. That said, for a draft, it’s pretty damn visible, seeing as to how it’s the second hit on Google for “Wiinky’s”. It also, to quote myself, looks like it was designed by aliens who were high on crack. A bit of advice – don’t make your draft website extremely visible to the public.

    • John Fontain

      Jerry Murrell and his sons (i.e., Five Guys) became wildly successful by doing the exact opposite of the “common sense school of marketing” that you espouse. I think it’d be great if Ryan’s sign read “This is a sign” and nothing more. And I hope he sticks to the things that he thinks he can do well and doesn’t try to be everything to everyone (i.e., the earlier suggestion to serve healthy fare).

      I am looking forward to checking this place out really soon.

      For more about the Murrell’s unconventional ways of doing things….



      • CW

        No, no, I wasn’t espousing the idea of conventional marketing in the advertising sense (print, radio, whatever) as much as I was just saying that it is extremely important to have a product that is ready for public consumption before releasing it to the public. Wait for the soda fountain and the website before you launch. If he had a sign that said “This is a Sign”, then fine, that would be unique. That said, who knows, maybe the food will just carry him along – it did for Ray’s Hell Burger, which more or less defies all logic as to how a restaurant should operate (although it’s become more streamlined in the past year or so). Or maybe he will fly under the radar and iron out all the kinks before his grand opening.

        • Kelly

          The “product” he’s selling is ready for consumption…why stay closed while you’re waiting for a couple things, and have the potential to generate a little bit of revenue? The soda machine might not be in, but until it is he’s selling sodas by the can. The sign might not be up, but people are still finding their way in there..

  • Betty

    If you have a dream about this place, just don’t go in back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGneKSUbDsc

  • JustSomeRandomGuy

    Best of luck to you Ryan! That burger looks delicious!!! Mmmmm….

  • Ballston

    I do wish him the best of luck in following his dreams, but as a ballston resident/ potential customer I already have my healthy burger requirement filled with a bazillion other options (see bgr:shack, etc) — I think that there is a supply / demand lesson from biz school that may need to be revisited here.

    I always wish I could have some diversity in food options here. I would drop all my money DAILY on a surf style taco shack in B’ston if I had the option.

    • JamesE

      A small taco stand would be great (or a taco bell)

    • CW

      Surfside II?

    • Aaron

      The District Taco truck services Ballston on Mondays. I suggest giving them a try if you haven’t already!

  • AT

    I live near Wiinky’s and walked by there yesterday. If it weren’t for the arlnow.com article and the neon “Open” sign, I wouldn’t have a clue what Wiinky’s was. I hope he can get that sign soon so people driving and walking by know he’s there. I wish him the best–will try a burger from there soon!

  • Southeast Jerome

    wow, these are the nicest comments I have seen on an ArlNow thread in weeks…. I’m impressed by the newfound maturity levels shown

    • me

      You’re a booger butt!

      • Maria

        I must have my kindergarten pants on today because that just made me laugh so hard.

  • Jason S.

    The peanut butter hamburgers reminded me of the creepy kid with powers in the old Twilight Zone movie.

  • CW

    Also – first dates?

    “Hey babe, how about you and I go slam a couple half-pound peanut butter bacon burgers in the place with no sign, and then we can skip the nonsense and head back to my place.”

    • JustSomeRandomGuy

      great pick up line! i will use that next time. 🙂

    • JamesE

      I take them somewhere much classier, like Arbys.

  • Dope

    Oh, yeah? You and what army!?

  • Hobo

    I went there today, not too bad. I would like the buns to be heartier, maybe a wheat or some other option. The fries also need some sort of seasoning on them to make them stand out, they are a little bland as is. Maybe something as simple as old bay on them would help. I wish him the best though, I think it’ll be a tough run with all of the other burger joints in the area. Maybe he should emphasize the hot dogs or chili instead of the burgers.

    • CW

      Honestly, if he wants to stand out, there is one tried and true marketing gimmick that, as far as I am aware, NONE of the competition in this area has. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about a good old-fashioned eating challenge. And not just some run-of-the-mill four-burgers-in-30-minutes or something. No. He needs to cook up some monstrosity with alternating layers of patties and hot dogs. There needs to be chili involved. It shall rest upon a bed of fries. And peanut butter and bacon shall be liberally incorporated.

      • Anon

        BGR has a 9lb burger that’s “an official I.F.O.C. competitive eating contest.”

        And Guajillo has a massive burrito that’s free if you eat it in one sitting.

      • CW

        Ok, excellent. Well he needs to come up with something anyhow. He has chili and hot dogs and peanut butter to work with so he can get creative.

  • JJ

    There was a popular fast food burger chain in the 70’s called Winky’s in the rust belt states – anyone remember that? Not sure if they were around here but they were pretty competetive with McD’s and Burger Chef (remember them?) before they went belly up in the 80’s.

    • Rosslynite

      Winkys makes you happy to be hungry.

      • Tre

        not to be confused with Wimpy’s

      • Tre

        (insert logo)

  • Hobo

    I wish my bun looked like this one on their website and not the mushy soft bun I got.

    • WiinkysCustomer

      My thoughts exactly.

  • Jenny-Bear

    Ryan looks like a total stoner. I would definitely purchase greasy food from him.

    • Lou

      It sounds like he’s been in the restaurant industry for a while. I think the stoner part is pretty much a given.

  • Jenny-Bear

    Would you like to go out for a hot dog some time, Ryan? I love eating phallic foods on dates.

  • Jason S.

    I just went there a bit ago, they are completely unprepared. The food was OK, the sides were overpriced. It was $3 for a very small portion of onion rings. The soda machine still doesn’t work, so they figured they would screw you on soda for $1.40 per can.

    Even though it’s about a block away, it’s a near certainty that I won’t return.

    • Did you have a burger at the burger shop? How was it?

      • Jason S.

        Of course I had a burger, I had the Wiinky burger, which is the one with peanut butter. It was OK. It was haphazardly built and poorly seasoned, but large enough. The bun left no impression either way on me despite being mentioned by others; the meat was just OK, although the seasoning made it worse since it had too much pepper. It wasn’t good or bad, perhaps it should be described as forgettable.

    • Tabby

      $1.40 for a can of soda is ridiculous.

  • Elmo

    Went there today. Despite being empty, my burger took a while and they messed-up the order. The burger itself was pretty blah: tasteless meat and dissolving bun. As much as I would like to root for the little guy, BGR, Elevation and Five Guys are M U C H better options.

  • Shanny’s Boo

    I had a burger and side caesar salad there earlier tonight and everything was delicious! I got the bacon cheeseburger, with chipotle mayo and grilled onions, and I highly recommed people try one like this because the tastes really complemented each other! Chipotle mayo = wayyy better than normal mayo. TRY IT. I don’t really know what a “dissolving” bun is (comment above) but mine definately wasn’t..I’ll definately eat here again.

  • D

    I wish him the best of luck. I was there earlier today, and ordered some of there chicken wings. They were some of the best wings iv ever had. I would recommend it to anyone who decides to try this place out. The service was excellent, the employees are very customer oriented. The one thing I could suggest is to paint the building an appealing color.

  • Brian

    I just want a place with a big greasy hamburger. The health stores have overrun Arlington and they basically suck.

  • cvii

    Went by Wiinky’s last night and had the Wiink burger. It was a job to actually finish the whole thing, but it was juicy and delicious. Actually loved the grilled bun, had a nice crunch and good flavor. Management was really talking up the wings, so I’ll have to give those a try sometime.

  • Jay

    Went there last night and had a regular hamburger with chipotle mayo & onions, very good!

    Also – the curly fries were good but nothing special.

  • Andy

    Ate lunch at Wiinky’s today (4/25) with some co-workers. The burgers were very good, as were the fries and onion rings. I also had the chili, which wasn’t bad. Note that the burgers come with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise unless requested otherwise. The atmosphere inside is still like it was when it was the Pike Grill, which means no atmosphere, and today the A/C wasn’t working. But if they fix the AC, I would go back for lunch again. One added bonus: they offer Diet Coke in real glass bottles, which is very rare. It’s not clear whether this will still be the case when their soda fountain gets hooked up. I did not see any indication that beer or wine will be served. There is a veggie burger option, and one of my co-workers tried it and said “it’s a veggie burger.” Wiinky’s can’t compete with all the local yuppie burger joints on atmosphere, but if you’re trying to get a very good burger without the yuppie drippings (and without the yuppies either), it’s definitely worth a try.

    Summary: Zero atmosphere; good burgers and fries.

    • MB

      Actually, it’s not a veggie burger in the now-common veggie patty sense. It’s some vegetables (lettuce, tomato, green and red peppers, and maybe onions) thrown on the grill for a minute or two and then put on a bun. It’s alright, as sandwiches go, but anyone looking for a veggie burger wil be disappointed.

      And yes, please fix the A/C. Or leave the freezer door open.

  • JasonS

    Am I the only one that finds Ryan Shandel’s aversion to giving his name, when it is public information a little strange?

  • BurgerMan

    He probably doesn’t want to use his last name because he spent most of his adolescent life in juvenile hall and the fact that he grew up and went to high school in Springfield, not Arlington like the article states.

    His dad owned the Pizza place he was the manager at and I’m sure was the one who funded this project.

    This isn’t the feel good story everyone thinks it is.

    This dude seems really sketchy for telling all of these lies to ArlNow.

    • South Arlington

      Who cares if he went to high school in Springfield or was in juvenile hall? His story is still a great, small business story that will hopefully be one of success and redemption.

      It sounds like the BGR, brgr, Big Buns Gourmet and Five Guys folks are trying to start a PR campaign against Wiinkys. Who knew the Burger Mafia had come to town?

      • BurgerMan

        I know of this guy, he’s not a good guy at all. I don’t want people like this in my town.

        The fact that he blatantly lied about being an “Arlington native” shows what type of person he is.

        His father is also VERY well off so I don’t think this is some feel good story about the little guy making it. It’s more like the rich kid getting help from his Dad to get even richer.

        Go ahead and eat there but I will not set foot in that place, I for one hope it fails badly and judging by the comments on here about the mediocre food I’m sure it will.

  • BurgerMan

    And for the record I have no affiliation with any of the other burger joints in this area, I just know this Ryan guy is not the guy they portrayed in this article.

  • JustSomeRandomGuy

    i still have to try this place, i think its happening today. cant wait!

  • Eve-il

    I ate here Saturday for lunch… I’m not sure what the other folks were served who complained on here, maybe Wiinky was still working on the kinks… but our food was delicious! And in my opinion better than the other burger joints in the area. And yeah, it took time for them to prepare our burgers even though we were the only patrons… but food takes time to cook – duh! To me that’s a good sign… if you don’t like waiting, there’s a McDs or BK down the street

    They definitely need to work on the atmosphere and lack of AC – but living only 1 block away, I’ll have no problem entering the ugly building and getting it to go!

  • Chris

    My roommate got a wiink burger last night and I had a bite… pretty awesome. Ryan is a cool dude. we will definitely be back


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