When opened in Evanston, he thought of his restaurant on the level of a standard Vienna hot dog shop. The Park Ridge resident hoped his personal touch and quality ingredients might attract attention from food bloggers, but he didn’t expect a story in the New York Times two weeks after opening.
Food writer Peter Meehan, an Evanston native, happened to walk in on a visit home and was impressed.
The result was a blitz of attention from local and national publications ranging from Time Out Chicago to Bon Appetit. Now the counter service spot at 1571 Sherman Ave. regularly has lines out the door, and Lakin is planning to open a second location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood this fall.
“This was the right combination of good location and good financial situation; the build out was already almost completely in place, rent was good,” Lakin said. “I figured if I spent two more years looking, I wouldn't find a place as good as this one.”
“A foodie experience with a low price point”
The new location at 2218 N. Lincoln Ave. will be smaller than the Evanston spot, with 35 instead of 50 seats. It doesn’t have a char grill, so the Evanston location will still be the only place you can get the restaurant’s famous char burgers. Lakin hasn’t decided yet what will replace them on the Chicago menu, but said the offerings will be 85 percent the same, including all of his made-in-house shakes and fries.
Friends told Lakin he was crazy when he opened in Evanston, but he said he believed he’d found a location and demographic that would appreciate his concept, especially during a bad economy.
“They can still have a foodie experience with a low price point,” Lakin said. “You can come here in your bathing suits and flip flops on the way home from the beach, and you'll still have a burger that's the same quality of a $15 burger at a white tablecloth place.”
Most importantly, Lakin said he made Edzo’s a restaurant he’d want to eat at.
“Chefs love to go to places that have great food and people that understand what makes food great, but we like to be able to wear shorts and backward baseball caps,” he said.
Owner will split his time between locations
The Lincoln Park spot will start with the same hours as the Evanston location (which closes at 4 p.m.), but will eventually stay open for dinner, since Lakin said that area is more active in the early evening. Lakin has no intention of staying open after 8 p.m. or serving alcohol, however.
“It's diminishing returns with late night, post-bars people,” Lakin said. “You get a lot of business, but you also get a lot of headaches. Not that I'm against drinking. I love drinking. I'm just against cleaning up vomit and breaking up fights.”
Lakin previously took every order himself, but has hired two other chefs to split the load with him in Evanston and at the new spot.
“It's been a big thing that I've worried about,” Lakin said. “I feel that the brand is really personality driven. I've tried to hire people who have a really similar mentality.”
When the Chicago restaurant opens, Lakin said he expects to spend most of his time there, but he hopes to shift back to working primarily in Evanston, where he enjoys the extra space and the proximity to his home and two young children.