In a rare example of people actually getting what they've been asking for (for years now), Edzo's Burger Shop, the beloved Evanston burger stand which has been open only for lunch (so owner Eddie Lakin could have a life) since it opened in 2009, will add dinner service. "We're finally acquiescing to people's many requests that, 'Why aren't you open at night?'" says Lakin. The Evanston location will stay open until 10 PM starting Tuesday, January 28, and soon after, the Lincoln Park location (which is open till 8 PM currently) will start staying open until midnight on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Lakin originally followed the example of Hot Doug's in being open only from 10:30 AM to 4 PM, hours which would allow him to oversee the entire business personally and get home in time to see his young kids. He says that with the opening of a second location, "My life has changed. I'm not hands-on like I was. I have managers here and there and we honestly have one too many managers. So [extending hours] makes sense in terms of being able to utilize my people and giving them as much challenge and stimulation as they need." He also thinks it will be a boost to the Lincoln Park location. "We've got all that bar action on our street, and that's really like the only action on that street. Honestly, if you're on that street any time other than 10 PM, it's like a graveyard." A bunch of college students full of beer and craving burgers should fix that.
I made a video about Edzo's for the Reader when Edzo's first opened, talking about his back-to-basics approach to making good old-fashioned burgers and fries, so this seemed like a good moment to chat with him again. In that video Lakin says of the moment of opening finally sinking in, "Oh my God, am I going to be doing this for like five years, six days a week, every day?" It's only been four years, but here's what he thinks about it all now.
Michael Gebert: So what led to abandoning the "have a life" model and finally offering dinner service?
Eddie Lakin: When we first opened I had a life, but I was working my butt off. I was getting in at 6 or 6:30, getting home at 5, then putting my kids to bed or cooking dinner for my family. So then when Lincoln Park popped up, about a year ago, I kind of turned the model on its ear, and abandoned the Hot Doug's model. I decided to do two, instead of one, so then I hired managers.
All four of my managers are culinary school graduates with front-of-the-house experience, a similar background to me. A couple have more of a fine dining background. They've taken my model, or the Hot Doug's model or whatever you want to call it, and they've run with it. I feel like on a day-to-day basis, we're covered, and they do a good job of maintaining my vision and level of customer service, and food quality and so on.
So now it makes sense to be open at night, because I'm not doing it solo now.
When I shot that video you were doing everything, starting with grinding your own beef in the morning, which was an important part of your vision—fresh-ground beef. How does that work now?
The beef is still getting ground first thing in the morning, I'm just not the one doing it. We have a butcher who comes in about 7:30, cuts the beef up and puts it in the freezer to firm up, then grinds it. So everything gets ground between about 8:30 and 10. And that's in both restaurants. One of the main principles of the whole idea is that all the beef is ground in the restaurant, fresh every day. I toyed with the idea of putting in a grinding room in Lincoln Park, having a dedicated production area and then feeding this store with it.
And then I said, no, invariably we're going to wind up doing it and holding it till the next day. And frankly, I think the main thing that makes the burgers good is that they were ground hours before you eat them. I didn't want to lose that.
When you started, it was hard to think of fresh-ground burgers in the city. And since then, people doing burgers and fries the old way, without using frozen products as a shortcut, have popped up quite a bit. You're kind of like Spacca Napoli, which was the only Neapolitan pizza place when it opened, and now they're all over town. How do you feel about other people doing what you do now?
I think it's great. I think every place does their own individual twist, and has their own feel and vibe, and the product's going to be slightly different even if it's the same—garlic fries and a shake and a single, it's not going to be exactly the same as it is here. But that's the nature of restaurants. The challenge is not to write a menu, or a production schedule, the challenge is to make it happen every single day.
So I feel like if you're comparing me to Spacca Napoli raising the bar for decent quality pizza, that's a really flattering comparison and I hope people keep raising the bar. That's the beauty of doing stuff in the culinary world, someone does it and someone else says, wow, that was a really solid idea and they do it, and then it becomes the new standard. And then we go somewhere else from there.
But you've never taken it too far out. You've kind of experimented with the fries, but you've never been tempted to do, like, a burger topped with pulled pork—
—and two quail eggs?
We have done a few things like that. Our current one is a breakfast for dinner burger, which we're doing with triple bacon—so we're grinding the bacon into a patty and spice it up like sausage, then it's got strips of bacon and Canadian bacon, and an egg—we cook it like McDonald's, where it's in a ring—and serving it with cheese on an English muffin.
So we're doing stuff like that, but even that, there's nothing out there, nothing crazy. I'm trying to stay true to the feel of the place, which is that we're kind of a simple, basic, burger place, the meat is the star of the show because we grind the meat every day. We've done a few pretzel buns—I'm not a fan of the pretzel buns, but the managers come to me and they say, "I wanna do this"—we did a bratwurst burger that really called for a pretzel bun.
We do the market burgers [topped with produce from the Green City Market] in the summer—those have gone totally insane, if you want to see weird ingredients. . . we had like a chevre-stuffed squash blossom on one, we had one where we had a pea-themed burger, so [one of the managers] did a pea aioli, there was pea shoots, crispy peas—there were like six kinds of peas on it.
So we stretch out our imaginative side, and then we sell like ten of those a week. So it's not like we're committing to the whole month, but it's something to tweet about, to say hey, this looks interesting. And I try not to do that too much, because I feel like you can get gimmicky, you're like, "What can I put on a burger now?" There's a fine line between doing the same thing every day for five years, and becoming a PR whore.
But you do have the lobster fries.
Yeah, that's a little over the top.
Just a little.
But it still makes sense from a culinary standpoint, you know? It's basically all the normal stuff that you would want with lobster, if you had a lobster roll, mayonnaise, chives, and then we sub out the starch with fries. I mean, it's decadent, and it's over the top for sure, and we can charge $10 for fries. The main reason we can do these is that lobster's so affordable. A pound lobster is $9.
Are you really using live lobsters in here?
Yeah, we get in five or six at a time, two times a week and we cook them off. Maine lobsters, we get them in live. We cook them in a pot of boiling water, crack them and clean the meat, portion the meat out. We save the shells and we make shellfish butter out of the shells, we put the shells in about 20 pounds of butter, let that steep and the butter boils and becomes clarified. We strain the whole thing and just get the clarified butter out of it, it's bright pink and has that really good shellfish smell to it—
The way any hamburger stand makes their shellfish butter.
Hey, we were getting them in and just throwing them away, so I said, why don't we make shellfish butter?
That kind of stuff is good because it has PR value and gives you something to tweet about. But it's also good because it gives my guys who have culinary school backgrounds an outlet to use that stuff and not just feel like they're slinging burgers and hot dogs. They don't want to get bored, or stale, or feel like they're not using their education.
I mean, that's kind of the root of what we're all about, guy with culinary background runs a hot dog stand. So by trying to stay true to that with my hires, it's kind of continuing itself—I mean, I'm still involved but these guys come up with specials that are just dead on, right in line with the concept. Highbrow meets lowbrow, or whatever you want to call it.