Majewski (right) and a friendly hamburger helper &nsbp;Photo: Lisa Predko
(Model Ashley Aspiranti, Stylist Kami Bremyer, Hair Antje Kastner/Tigerlilie Salon, Makeup Carey Swanson)

Not long ago, Gregg Majewski, 29, was on vacation with his wife, Page, and their son, when they found themselves driving around Clearwater, Florida, desperate for a decent meal. "We just couldn't find a good burger anywhere we went," he recalls. "All we could find was McDonald's." This was a problem he had noticed before: as a businessman who, at the time, traveled for work 15 to 20 days a month, Majewski had often wondered why a fresher burger operation like In-N-Out Burger hadn't spread beyond the West Coast.

That's the impetus behind Majewski's latest venture-Patty Burger, a fast-casual counter-service restaurant positioning the common beef-and-bun stalwart as an upscale lunch choice, trying to do for the burger what Chipotle did for the lowly burrito. Located across from Millennium Park at 122 South Michigan Avenue, the business is shooting for a Christmas opening. "Big players like McDonald's are purely a quick-serve burger, but if you go back to their old philosophy they were more than that," Majewski says. "I think there is still a void in that original niche."

Majewski certainly understands the sandwich market. While waiting to take a job at Arthur Andersen after graduating in 1998 from the University of Kentucky with an accounting degree, Majewski spent his summer interning at Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, based in Elgin at the time. The founder, Jimmy John Liautaud, offered him a job as the company's controller. Less than two years later, Liautaud promoted him to CFO. But his meteoric rise didn't stop there. "I was getting more involved in the operation side while I was CFO and when the CEO was let go in 2001 Jimmy asked me to step up and fill in," Majewski says. Eventually Majewski took on the COO position as well and held all three positions until 2003, when he quit to pursue his own businesses. (Majewski still owns 15 Jimmy John's stores in Ohio and Alabama.)

Since then, Majewski has opened a sports-themed restaurant and bar called Jerseys Pizza & Grill in Hoffman Estates, where he lives. Jerseys, a study in suburban sprawl, is a 244-seat restaurant serving primarily pizza amidst an explosion of plasma screen televisions. Majewski conceived the restaurant as a franchise and hopes to have three or four locations open in the Midwest by the end of 2006. At Patty Burger, Majewski is replicating the formula that made Jimmy John's a success: offer fresh ingredients and high-quality meats, and make everything to order. For his burger operation, Majewski will use pure Angus beef and fresh toppings, which customers will pick themselves. He reports that, in the laboratory at least, he has shaved the wait time down to four minutes per sandwich; he plans to sell them at under $4 apiece.

Inside, Patty Burger will resemble a classic diner but there won't be overt memorabilia such as 1950s posters or even those clichéd red vinyl booths. "People think the more you have in the restaurant, the more it will distract customers from what they're there for or they won't notice the wait time," he says. "At Patty Burger, the product should be talking for itself."