What was the most memorable burger you’ve ever had? Was it on a brioche, pretzel or potato bun? Did it have fresh, crisp vegetables or a tantalizing sauce? Did you enjoy this burger alone at a greasy spoon so familiar that you could recite the menu by heart, or did you eat it while sitting across from a close friend at an upscale restaurant in your neighborhood?
If you’re feeling nostalgic now – and maybe a little hungry – Alex Leo-Guerra ’23, aka Duke’s “burger guy,” would be pleased. With a burger-finder map and a burger-related TEDx talk under his belt, he is likely the Duke alumni community’s most respected burger connoisseur. But, for Leo-Guerra, a good burger is something bigger than a collection of perfectly balanced ingredients. He believes the perfect burger can create long-lasting memories about the people that surround you, no matter where you are in the world.
“Burgers are universal. They're ubiquitous; they're forever,” Leo-Guerra shares. “Regardless of income, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or beyond, there's a good burger for everyone.”
Leo-Guerra doesn’t just love burgers – he ties his most memorable life experiences to them. These days, he records his burger experiences on Instagram, where his @burgerchild has attracted the attention of students and local restaurant owners. His adoration of burgers, however, can be traced to his childhood in Brooklyn and the classic American staple: McDonald’s. A young Leo-Guerra would accompany his grandmother as she cleaned apartments, bouncing on millionaires’ beds as she changed linens. After his grandmother wrapped up her workday, she would take Leo-Guerra to McDonald’s as a treat.
One day, an 8-year-old Leo-Guerra was devastated to find his favorite restaurant closed for renovations. Having heard about a new burger place in the local mall, Leo-Guerra and his grandmother headed to Bobby’s Burger Palace, where a skeptical Leo-Guerra ordered the restaurant’s signature burger. The experience was life-changing.
“This burger comes out, and it has steam rising from it – McDonald's [burgers] did not have steam. It gets put in front of me and I just stare at it for two minutes until my grandmother says, ‘Eat it already, it's getting cold!’” Leo-Guerra says. “I sink my teeth in and in that moment, worlds collide; civilizations are built and collapse; everything just falls into place, and it all makes sense. It blew my mind, and I realized then: If there's a good burger here, imagine how many more good burgers there are out there.”
Leo-Guerra set out to try as many burgers as possible, and over the years, his mission has expanded to proving the universal appeal of a burger. An enthusiastic connector of people, he believes burgers are perfect vessels for building bridges between people and their local communities. In addition to acting as the basis for his TEDx Talk, this belief led him to create the Burger Navigator Map, an interactive Google map that shows more than 7,000 places around the world where you can find an acclaimed local burger.
Since graduating in the spring, Leo-Guerra finds himself seeking out the next step in his career – ideally in marketing, the field where he hopes to land. With so much experience connecting people to great food, he feels confident that he can scale up to connect people to products and services. In the meantime, he continues to run his Instagram account, highlighting exceptional local eats. He also hasn’t written off the idea of showcasing mouthwatering burgers on a larger scale.
“In an ideal world, I'd just be the burger guy,” he smiles, “on Food Network or a TV show where I just introduce people to [local] restaurants, tell their stories, and express why they've played such an important role in their communities.”
Food Network, are you looking for your next big star? Call us … we know a guy. A burger guy.