Tom & Eddie’s will open its fifth store in February, built on a strong foundation of burgers, fries and shakes, and the restaurant pedigree of creators Tom Dentice and Ed Rensi.
The pair opened their first Tom & Eddie’s in August 2010 in a Lombard, Ill., shopping center, and the fifth will open in Naperville, Ill., the first week of February.
“We’re actually into our second generation of stores,” Rensi said. “It gets a little bit more refined. We’re tinkering with what seats we will use, some of the finishes.”
Rensi added, “Tom and I worked with McDonald’s, so we’re brand fanatics. We want to keep close attention to brand and keep these restaurants as consistent as we can from a branding standpoint. Intellectual property in restaurants is almost as important as anything you are doing.”
Both men started with the McDonald’s system in 1965, Rensi said, with Dentice as a restaurant manager and Rensi as his assistant manager. Both worked their way up the McDonald’s system, with Rensi becoming president and chief executive of McDonald’s USA and Dentice becoming executive vice president of operations and training for the No. 1 burger chain. They left McDonald’s in the late 1990s.
“It got to the point where we both said, ‘Let’s get back into the burger business,’” Rensi said. “Originally, we wanted to be a Smashburger franchisee, but for whatever reason they didn’t think we could do it. So we didn’t.”
Instead, they created Tom & Eddie’s, with a broad menu of burgers and sandwiches that now ranges in price from the $3.99 old-fashioned burger and fries to the $11.99 steak sandwich with a petite filet, horseradish cream, grilled mushrooms, wilted spinach and haystack onions.
Hamburgers, French fries and milk shakes are the best sellers, Rensi said, but the menu also includes a large create-your-own section, featuring more than 40 toppings, and three The Mess sandwiches, which reinvent the classic Sloppy Joe with Korean and Philadelphia cheese steak flavors. The concept, which carries the tagline, “We Put Good Taste in Everything We Do,” also offerssandwiches, salads and soups.
Darren Tristano, executive vice president at the Chicago-based consultancy Technomic Inc., characterized Tom & Eddie’s as being “fast fine,” with price points and alcohol sales above fast casual and a service experience that’s more affordable than dinner house brands.
A recent menu introduction at the Tom & Eddie’s units in Lombard and Geneva, Ill., will be continued with the Naperville opening, Rensi said, adding, “Restaurants should always be in a state of evolution.”
“House specials have changed and are using higher-end products,” he said. “We think there’s a market for higher-end sandwiches that are more for an evening meal or a weekend date night than you might otherwise get.”
The “value” side of the menu contains nine sandwiches priced under $5.
“We want to make sure we have a spectrum of products — at a lot of different price points — that are loaded with flavor,” he said.
The daypart split is about equal parts lunch and dinner, and about 10 percent of sales are carryout.
“We’re also doing catering,” Rensi added. “There are not very many people who dare cater hamburgers, but we have some very good technology.”
With a growing number of celebrity chefs, Rensi said, “people have become really technically aware of what food is. That’s why we wanted to have a very interesting and challenging menu.”
Tom & Eddie’s units roast their own Hungarian hot peppers as well as tomatoes and garlic.
“You don’t find that in the hamburger joint,” Rensi said.
Beyond February’s Naperville opening, he said, “Our next desire is to go to downtown Chicago with three or four units. We want to get right deep into the urban environment.”