“Going viral isn’t what’s most important”: Black Tap’s Joe Isidori on his recipe for success in the 21st Century

Four months ago, the burger-loving community here was rocked by the news that award-winning New York restaurant Black Tap was coming to Singapore. Opened by Michelin star winner chef Joe Isidori, the brand (full name Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer) started out with just one shop in Soho, New York City in March 2015. All it took was one explosive snap of their signature CrazyShake milkshakes—over-the-top, diabetes-inducing creations—for Black Tap to become an instant viral sensation. The single store quickly ballooned into an empire that now has its fingers in Las Vegas, Dubai, and soon even Disneyland.

, “Going viral isn’t what’s most important”: Black Tap’s Joe Isidori on his recipe for success in the 21st Century
Black Tap’s CrazyShakes: Cookie, Cotton Candy, and Sweet N’ Salty

But with fame comes its detractors. In 2018 alone, Isidori, a third-generation chef from The Bronx, has had to sidestep a $25 million lawsuit from his former partners, and another ugly online brawl disputing that he originated the CrazyShakes. (When asked about the allegations, he declined to comment.) Such is the world of social media—find your beginnings and your success on it, but be prepared that it’s just as ready to tear you down.

Today, one summer later, Isidori has emerged unfazed and ready to take on Southeast Asia. Before the joint finally lands in Marina Bay Sands sometime in August to September, we asked him a little more about the perils of running an Instafamous business.

First things first; what made you go into the burger biz?

After years in fine dining, I knew I wanted to do something fun, something for the neighborhood. My Dad and I would always go to the luncheonette in our neighborhood for a burger deluxe—a classic cheeseburger with fries on the side. This was my inspiration for Black Tap.

Why the name “Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beers” when the shakes are such a big part of the brand?

The original game plan for Black Tap was to be a burger joint that serves awesome burgers and craft beer. When you go to these craft beer holes in the outskirts of North New York, like Brooklyn, they would have these obscure tap systems with the little black handles on them, like a “black tap”, and they would have a chalkboard with all their award-winning beers written on it. It was a way of denoting really high-end craft beers. The phrase “Black Tap” kind of lends itself to that. We loved the name and we decided to go with that, so people know to come to Black Tap for an awesome burger and beer. The milkshakes came afterwards. We opened up with the burgers and the beers first and then six months later we came up with the milkshakes, and we became very well known for those. But our DNA is the three pillars—burgers, shakes and really awesome craft beer, and that’s why we’re called Black Tap.

How has business been since the Instagram viral shout-out in 2015?

Business has been better than we ever could have imagined! We started as a 15-seat burger joint, and now we’re bringing Black Tap all over the world. It’s truly incredible.

So many people and restaurants aim to “go viral” nowadays. How important is social media virality in building a brand?

I feel that going “viral” isn’t what’s most important, because that happens naturally and you can’t plan for it. That said, social media is still a very useful tool and channel for any brand to directly connect with your customers, and tell the story of your brand.

How did the Crazy Shake come about?

Our first Crazy Shake was the Cotton Candy milkshake. One day, my wife was craving for a cotton candy milkshake, so we decided to make a giant milkshake that was over the top. I took the initial idea back to my team at Black Tap, before we came up with the final version together. We knew it had to be over the top and colorful; but most importantly, it had to taste good. Then I posted it on Instagram. People loved it!

What do you have planned for the Singapore outlet? Any exclusive or local flavors?

We are currently planning to introduce some dishes with local flavors; in the US we’re already incorporating a lot of Asian flavors and ingredients in our menu. My favorite is the Gochujang, which we use in our special sauce and Korean BBQ Wings.

After Singapore, where else are you looking to bring Black Tap to?

We’re super excited to be opening our first California location at the Downtown Disney District at Disneyland Resort, and we’ll be opening our third New York location in Herald Square.

What’s the secret to making a burger brand so successful in an over-saturated industry?

Be true to yourself. At Black Tap, we’re all about great burgers, craft beer, and a whole lot of fun.

Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer will be opening at Marina Bay Sands in the third quarter of 2018. More information here