Hungerlust: The Man Who Brought the Burger to Iceland

Tommi Tómasson is Iceland’s hamburger king
Tommi Tómasson is Iceland’s hamburger king | © Murphy Mortician / Culture Trip

Icelandic restaurateur Tommi Tómasson fell in love with the burger when he was living in the US. On his return to Iceland, he started the country’s first fast-food chain – and the rest is hamburger history.

In Iceland and its capital, Reykjavík, Tommi Tómasson is a legend. “More than 70 percent of the people in Iceland know who I am or have heard of me,” he says. The reason for his fame? Tommi is the man who brought the burger to Iceland. He started his career in the food industry, in the restaurant kitchen at Reykjavík’s main airport, Keflavik, where he realised he wanted to be a restaurateur.

Tómasson came out of rehab and launched an international burger empire | © Murphy Mortician / Culture Trip

After a period of successfully managing a clubhouse, a place that was like “a small festival every weekend”, Tommi was hungry to learn more and went to America. “Someone told me before I went: ‘If you want a good burger, you go to America.’” He was inspired by the country’s restaurant scene, and a plan was born: to open a steakhouse in Iceland. But, at the time, making burgers was the only job that was available, and, in 1981, Tommi opened the first fast-food chain in Iceland. He soon found he enjoyed it, and he’s been doing it, with no small success, ever since.

Tommi’s burgers have a reputation outside the bubble of Reykjavík | © Murphy Mortician / Culture Trip

His first burger joint became immensely popular, and Tommi sold on average a thousand burgers every day when it first opened. Today, Tommi is 70, and his burger empire is still going strong. His eponymous burger joints can now be found not just in Iceland but also in England, Germany, Denmark, Italy and Norway. Their popularity is a testament to Tommi’s philosophy: “When you start a project, you have two options: either you finish or you quit. And I never quit. There’s an Icelandic saying that says: ‘Conquer the world or die.’ So what are you gonna do? You’re gonna conquer the world.”

‘I never quit,’ says Tómasson | © Murphy Mortician / Culture Trip

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