The Ins and Outs of the Burger Biz: Guest

Burgers are big business in Chicago, from gourmet Kobe patties to wallet-friendly sliders. They're sold in upscale restaurants, fast-casual chains and almost everything in between, creating a tasty, but crowded marketplace of buns 'n' beef. For specialty shops focused purely on burgers, differentiation is king. Here are expert opinions and advice from four of the city’s top burger purveyors.


Lakeview’s popular burger destination thrives on broad-based appeal, from local families to young urban diners. The brainchild of two established restaurateurs, Michael Kornick (mk) and David Morton (Morton’s Steakhouse), DMK is the intersection of well-crafted cuisine and an affordable price point.

David Morton and Michael Kornick, co-founders

How have you differentiated DMK and what separates your offering from other burger concepts? 

David Morton: Michael and I wanted to make DMK a reflection of who we are as people. We believe that hospitality is the core of any service experience and therefore provide a tremendous amount of training and development to our staff around this area.

1. We run the restaurant as a family -- we treat guests and employees with the same empathy as we do our siblings, spouses and children.

2. We are a chef-driven restaurant where we have spent a lot of time thinking about flavor combinations, textures, ratios, balances and sources instead of simply leaving it up to the guest. We have carefully sourced our ingredients for our audience, who we believe care a lot about the foods they eat. DMK is one of the largest purchasers of grass fed beef, outside of grocery, in the Midwest; our turkey is all naturally raised and antibiotic and hormone free; we use Colorado lamb for our lamb burger; we import chilies directly from New Mexico just for us.

3. We are genuinely committed to giving. Our 365 Days of Giving Program will give away over $25,000 this year to a variety of local charities that relate to children, wellness, the environment and the planet earth.

4. We are great at taking care of the people who work for us who we rely on to take care of our guests.

Michael Kornick: First we serve grass-fed beef. This is no small undertaking. Grass-fed beef is a very expensive choice for a burger bar, over $4 per pound wholesale compared to $1.65 for commercial corn-fed feed-lot beef. DMK is the largest non-grocery buyer in the Midwest for a single unit restaurant. DMK is chef-driven. I have created every recipe with the same care as any of my dishes at mk. DMK is a full-service hospitality-driven restaurant, specializing in great burgers.

What is your advice to other restaurateurs on how to stand out?

David Morton: Focus on building loyalty to your business through your people. There are very few barriers to entry so high that will keep others from replicating your product. There are extremely high barriers to an amazing culture and working with your people to make the totally experience excellent!

Michael Kornick: Not for free!

M Burger

The first fast-casual burger joint from Lettuce Entertain You, M Burger was born on the wall opposite of Tru, one of Chicago’s top fine dining destinations. The location quickly drew a strong following for high quality burgers, fries and shakes at fast-food prices. The concept has rapidly expanded with a second location on State Street and two upcoming restaurants in the Atrium Mall at Thompson Center and Water Tower.

Scott Barton, managing partner

How have you differentiated M Burger and what separates your offering from other burger concepts?

Scott Barton: We offer high-quality food at a low price point. We use all natural chicken and beef, source all of our ingredients very carefully and make all of our sauces. We aim to be the delicious, quick, carry-out neighborhood burger spot. I hear a lot of great feedback on our engaging counter staff -- there are a lot of smiles happening at M Burger!

What is your advice to other restaurateurs on how to stand out?

Scott Barton: Think small.

Epic Burger

How do you make burgers and fries healthy? You remove everything unnecessary and focus on the core components. A straightforward menu, natural ingredients and recyclable packaging give Epic Burger -- now opening its third city location -- a green halo. Or is that an onion ring?

David Friedman, founder

How have you differentiated Epic Burger and what separates your offering from other burger concepts?

David Friedman: Our point of difference is really the all-natural aspect. Our food is super clean, no preservatives, additives, nitrates, sulfates, hormones or antibiotics. I think that’s the hook and that we can serve at a reasonable price. Also, we only use plant-based packaging. We do get a lot of credit for that, but I like to tout it because I’m pretty proud. It costs me a lot more money, but I think it’s the right thing to do. Simplicity is another point of difference. A lot of the other burger places do a million different toppings, condiments, craft beers and whiskeys. Epic Burger is a straightforward hamburger place that serves really simply prepared food.

What is your advice to other restaurateurs on how to stand out?

David Friedman: Don’t open a burger place. There’s already too many of them. Look for something else. Really, my advice is that it needs to come from your heart. If you’re doing it simply because you think it will make money or it’s the latest fad or trend, you’re doing it for the wrong reason and you’ll have a tougher time. It needs to be authentic, honest and from the heart. Don’t chase fads.

Burger Bar Chicago

A hip burger bar, with an emphasis on the bar, focuses on gourmet burger creations and an equally top-notch beverage program of diverse craft beers, whiskey and house-infused spirits. Even with an adult vibe, Burger Bar also scores with the stroller set.

John McLean, chef/owner

How have you differentiated Burger Bar Chicago and what separates your offering from other burger concepts?

John McLean: Burger Bar Chicago is not just your ordinary burger joint. Burger Bar Chicago offers a tremendous variety of different proteins like lamb, used in our popular gyro burger, Berkshire pork used in our high hog Burger, shrimp in our Baja shrimp burger, Bison in our very popular Wild Bill Burger topped with house made tomato chutney and Indiana goat cheese. We also have chicken burgers, turkey burgers, elk burgers and very delicious veggie burger.

Another added bonus to Burger Bar Chicago is that we also offer grass-fed antibiotic free burgers. This gives our guest a choice of how they want to eat.

Burger Bar Chicago also lets you create your own signature 1/2 lb. burger with more than 30 toppings and sauces to mix and match.

Burger Bar Chicago also hand spins some of the best shakes around. Right now we have 11 different shakes to choose from. Last, but certainly not least, Burger Bar Chicago stocks over 100 domestic craft beers.

Burger Bar Chicago's atmosphere is very urban in feel and look. The industrial feel and the one of a kind urban art gives Burger Bar Chicago a distinct feel. High energy, loud and fun.

What is your advice to other restaurateurs on how to stand out?

John McLean: Always focus on consistently serving the highest quality food you can. In today's restaurant scene, food is the ultimate stand out and people today expect great food. In our case here at Burger Bar Chicago, I knew there were a lot of good burger joints around Chicago so I had to take a new approach to the burger scene and create something very fresh, vibrant and new. This is the mentality I take every day.

Rachel Gillman has an insatiable appetite and an obsession with entertainment. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelGillman.

How Epic Burger Created a Winning, Mindful Menu

Contact Us