Edzos Burger Shop in Evanston offers beef upgrades for $3 more.
The extensive chalkboard menu at Edzo's gives the burger shop a local, neighborhood feel.
Edzo's is a popular lunch spot with Northwestern students.
A few crammed tables face a bustling countertop. The dimly lit room teems with the sounds of hungry customers and rock-and-roll music. All 1,200-square feet are filled with a hazy fog, a combination of sizzling bacon fat and the chalk from a slate menu board. The atmosphere is casual but the cuisine is definitely gourmet.
“It’s upscale goes downscale,” says owner Eddie Lakin.
Edzo’s Burger Shop might seem like any other burger joint, akin to Five Guys or M Burger. But Lakin insists the Evanston-based eatery and its 14 employees bring something different to the table.
“The whole idea is that we grind the beef every day fresh and you go through the process of building it yourself,” Lakin said.
In addition to the classic lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and American cheese options, customers may choose from gourmet toppings such as caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, jalapenos and blue cheese. Burger prices range from $4.75 to about $10.
The menu also includes hot dogs, sandwiches, 10 varieties of French fries and unusually flavored milkshakes such as maple and the crowd favorite, Nutella.
Even though Edzo’s fare is casual, Lakin comes from a fine dining background. He graduated from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, which is now called Le Cordon Bleu, and worked as a chef in upscale restaurants in Barcelona, Bologna and Chicago before opening Edzo’s in 2009.
Lakin borrowed about $100,000 to take over an existing restaurant at 1571 Sherman Ave. that he turned into Edzo’s. He is still paying off the loan.
Lakin said he wanted to “do something not so stuffy and fancy” while still using high quality ingredients and offering distinctive menu items.
In addition to the freshly ground beef, Edzo’s uses locally grown produce, which prevents the shop from certain running burger specials in the winter months. But Lakin said it’s important that Edzo’s supports local farms.
The menu also offers beef upgrades. For $3 more, customers can substitute organically grown sustainable beef for standard beef. The flavor is superior, Lakin says, and it’s healthier because there is no saturated fat.
Located just around the corner from Northwestern University’s main campus, Edzo’s is a hot spot for students looking for a filling meal that fits their budgets. The proximity to campus was one of the reasons that drew him to the location in the first place. However, students make up only about one fourth to one third of Edzo’s clientele.
“We get everyone,” Lakin said. “It’s a great location with the built-in business from the students. But we also get lots of Evanston families and everyone who works in Evanston.”
James Nicholas, an Evanston resident, said he would rather dine at Edzo’s than the Five Guys around the corner. “I like the burgers better here,” Nicholas said. “They have a better taste.”
“Edzo’s has a great burger, great fries and the milkshake so getting that whole package…it’s a clincher,” said Northwestern student Jon Fraaza. “Plus they play great music.”
The quaint burger spot racked up very respectable revenue of about $900,000 last year.
Inspired by the quick success of the Evanston location, Lakin decided to open up a second store in Lincoln Park in December 2012. Lakin thought the popularity of the existing Edzo’s would translate right away, but business has been slower to build in Lincoln Park.
Located at 2218 N. Lincoln Ave., the restaurant is on a stretch that “is in transition,” Lakin says. Nearby, the former Lincoln Park Hospital site is being converted to a residential/retail complex. That has involved lots of barricades and construction that may have discouraged potential diners.
Lakin has teamed up with other nearby storefronts to drum up more business. The first Thursday of every month, Edzo’s and other local stores hand out samples at a neighboring coffee shop called CityGrounds.
In the meantime, the expense of opening of the new location forced Lakin to postpone some payments to his original lenders, but he hopes to restart payments once his Lincoln Park business improves. Lakin said the Evanston restaurant is profitable, while the Lincoln Park location is “still working towards being self-sustaining.”
Lakin is well aware that Edzo’s competition is not limited to just burger shops, but includes “anyone in town who sells a meal for around $10.” In Evanston that includes places like Panera Bread Co., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Cosi Inc., Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Potbelly Sandwich Shop and many other local restaurants.
Despite the competition, Edzo’s customers come by the dozens to customize their gourmet burgers and descend upon a rare, or medium rare, open table. “I come to Edzo’s because it’s probably the best burger in Evanston,” Fraaza said.