Back in the Burger Business
Retired McDonald's executives create and serve up the perfect patty.
It took a total of 64 years of experience, 53 pounds of weight gain and tens of thousands of dollars in ingredients for two retired McDonald's executives to arrive at their perfect burger.
Two years ago, Ed Rensi of Downers Grove called his friend Tom Dentice of Oak Brook. “We’d worked together for many years, and have always been close personal friends," Rensi said.
"He asked how I’d like to get back in the burger business,” Dentice recalled, adding that his initial response was that his long-time friend was “nuts.” However, after agreeing that it was impossible to get a great burger, and knowing they were the top echelon of burger aficionados, they decided to pool their expertise to develop Tom & Eddie’s restaurant.
“We were off and running,” Dentice said. They spent the next 16 months developing a menu, concept, interior design, brand and logo for Tom & Eddie’s, which opened last August at Yorktown. Since that time, they have opened a second restaurant in Geneva, and are completing construction of a third in Deerfield.
“People start restaurants for every reason imaginable,” said Rensi. “Some start when they see a great location, others think they have a neat idea for a kitchen. Some say their grandmother has the best damn meatball recipe. It’s all over the board.”
Rensi and Dentice decided early on their focus would be on providing the very best food possible. “We spent a lot of time trying to find the best flavors and spent a lot of time developing recipes with chefs,” said Dentice.
Rensi said that he gained 28 pounds while checking out the food from different restaurants. “We’d go to 10 restaurants a day, and then I went to New York and went to every joint out there,” he said. Dentice, who gained 25 pounds during the investigative part of the process added, “We would go to Red Robin’s; they’d have 10 burgers on the menu and we’d order them all.”
Much of their time developing recipes and testing products was done in the culinary arts department at the College of DuPage. “First we used the facility to sample raw products because we needed a test kitchen," Dentice said. "We didn’t’ have a facility.”
They then branched off to the student-run restaurant, where they served lunch or dinner to their invited guests. The only cost to the retailers, business people, faculty members and students, was being asked to complete a survey at the end of the meal. By the time Tom & Eddie’s opened in August, more than 2,000 people had tasted and critiqued menu items.
Rensi and Dentice paid a lot of attention to finding the best individual ingredients. They serve burgers made of Angus beef, and when it makes sense, ingredients that are organic, natural and local. The resulting menu offers nine signature burgers including The Ampersand, Tried & True, and Blue Chip.
The Me, Myself and I is a build-it-yourself burger with a selection of cheese, rolls, and more than 41 different toppings. Other items on the extensive menu include Ahi tuna sandwiches from sushi-grade tuna, chicken sandwiches, salads and soups. A tykes and toddlers menu caters to the youngest guests. The overall focus is on “great tasting food, wonderful hospitality at affordable prices,” Rensi said.
The pair is very hands on in the daily operations of the restaurants. Dentice often will visit customers, while Rensi hangs out in the back washing dishes. “I do that so that I can see what comes back on the plates,” said Rensi.
Rensi and Dentice have committed to community service. “Any business that does well in the community ought to give back," Rensi said. "It’s just a smart thing to do and frankly, it’s the moral thing to do. We’ve decided we’re going to focus on kids under 18 in the areas of health, education and the arts. “ Tom & Eddie’s has held promotional events and donated to schools and plans further initiatives.
Rensi said that they hope to build additional restaurants at a brisk pace. “I’d like to build at least 100 of them before I die," he said. "I want to build a lot of restaurants. Because it’s fun, and because I can.”