Whether you’re an omnivore, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or flexitarian, chances are you like to mash up a burger once in a while (no beef for some). That sentiment is something Michael Marshall Jr., owner of the Smashed RVA burger pop-up, thrives on.
Before Marshall became a burger fiend on the streets, he attended school to master culinary dishes. He went to a high school in Caroline County that was rebuilding its culinary arts program, so he decided to join. “That’s when I started loving food,” he says.
After high school, Marshall continued her culinary pursuits at Reynolds Community College in Richmond.
“I didn’t want to go to school, but I wanted to try to go to school,” says Marshall. “Then I learned in the industry that you can learn and make money, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this.'” With that thought, Marshall gave up to pursue his career more directly.
After working in restaurants throughout high school and his brief stint in college, Marshall began his more serious career as a kitchen manager at the Iron Horse in Ashland. His schedule proved stressful until he moved to the Caboose. Then Marshall left soon after, wanting something more under pressure. It was during this time that he worked at Lemaire, the acclaimed restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel, which brought him back into his very stressful comfort zone. Marshall really enjoys the chaos of a busy kitchen, especially when “everything around me is on fire, but I’ll just keep moving.” I love it.”
While at Lemaire, Marshall was furloughed for eight or nine months due to the pandemic. Amid the uncertainty, Marshall launched the Smashed pop-up, which got off to a slow start, beginning with a concert once a week. Over time, he gradually intensified the pop-up appearances while reducing the hours spent at Lemaire’s. Marshall recently went all-in at Smashed, but notes his last day at Lemaire was “a bittersweet moment.”
As for the decision to specialize in the smash-burger style [which as it sounds, smashes the ground beef into a thin patty when it hits the grill for more flavor], notes Marshall: “Asking for a temperature for ground beef is a weird thing to me… The mashed burgers will always be the superior burgers in my opinion.” Don’t expect pink burgers to come out of these dishes.
The idea for the burger pop-up was somewhat inspired by a high school project Marshall had to do where the students planned a makeshift restaurant. It went with burgers and milkshakes, of course. “Probably because it was the easiest thing to do…but I always knew I wanted to make burgers,” he adds.
Marshall keeps four burgers on the menu year-round with one or two rotating specials that vary from week to week. Of the four main dishes on the menu, Marshall highly recommends first timers “go OG or Chopped Cheese. If you’re gonna go OG, you gotta go double OG. The OG Smash features Seven Hills beef, American cheese, onions and Smash sauce. As for doubling the patties, Marshall says, “when in Rome, right?”
Their signature sauce Smash is a sauce game from Sean Brock, founding chef of the Husk restaurant. This version has more mustard and more flavor. Marshall notes, “I kinda like mustard on beef” and he didn’t realize how much he liked mustard until they started making Smashed Sauce. Given the success of this pop-up, customers seem to agree.
Marshall’s long-term goal for Smashed is a brick and mortar, but not just your average burger joint. Due to the abundance of burger spots in Richmond, they want to stand out. “We don’t just want to do a normal burger shop…we want to do something a little different. Almost like a bodega-style Five Guys. A convenience store serving burgers and chopped cheese? I think we rushed to New York.
In the meantime, Marshall would like to work more weeknights, especially Monday nights, to feed his colleagues in the industry. Given these sentiments and the multitude of collaborations Smashed RVA has been involved in with other local business owners – including (in Marshall’s view) the McSmashed collaboration with 1115 Mobile Kitchen and Jiji Frozen Custard – Marshall is a great advocate for the RVA food community.
Check out Smashed RVA on Instagram (@SmashedRVA) to find out where they’ll smash next.