Once a place of blazing buffalo wings and piping-hot pizza, House of Pizza and BBQ has transformed into a casual fast food joint, Burgers Unlocked, providing a high-quality burger in Hillsdale .
Key Opportunities, the nonprofit owner of the restaurant, decided to change the name and menu of the restaurant in late December to accommodate the staff, who have been training for their ServSafe Certification for the past couple years.
Burgers Unlocked’s staff is comprised of citizens of all backgrounds “with handicapping conditions or other disadvantages” that seek to work in food service, as stated on its website. The new burger joint is different from the House of Pizza and BBQ in that the program’s participants help with all stages of the food prep and behind the scenes work.
Previously, the House of Pizza and BBQ closed its doors on Mondays to allow the Key Opportunities participants to try their hand in the kitchen and acquire the skills necessary for a job in the restaurant business.
“Trust me, we miss the BBQ too,” Key Opportunities’ Youth Program and Public Relations Coordinator Stephanie Myers said. “But we’re very proud of the the changes we’ve seen. The changes open so many new opportunities for our people to work included on the workforce.”
Myers shared that the ultimate goal for the restaurant is to prepare the Key Opportunities’ participants to be fully integrated into the food industry.
Head Manager Dustin Furlong shared his enthusiasm for the participants from Key Opportunities.
“Everyone is unique and they’re all geeked out to be here,” said Furlong. “They love doing something different and they’re never in a bad mood.”
Assistant Manager Gloria Thompson echoed the sentiment.
“These people make me smile all day long,” said Thompson. “It has been really refreshing because of how happy they are to be here and to learn.”
The workers are no longer confined to working only on Monday, but now assist Furlong’s team Monday through Friday.
“My favorite part of working for Key Opportunities is seeing the participants celebrate their successes and the feeling about making a difference by themselves,” said Myers.
The claim that Burgers Unlocked offers “customers something new” is not without basis. The restaurant distinguishes itself from competitors through its use of fresh ingredients.
“Our chicken isn’t grown with antibiotics, and the beef isn’t given growth hormones,” said Furlong. “It’s a little more expensive but we want the better product.”
He explained how their fries are fresh and never frozen. Instead, employees come early to wash and prep the fries only for the day of and one day in advance, in order to maximize freshness.
“There was some backlash from angry customers because we didn’t have anymore BBQ,” said Thompson. “But once they tried the new menu they were happy.”
The main entrees for Burgers Unlocked are a burger, coney hot dog, and chicken sandwich. There are half a dozen variations of the burger and the restaurant offers a plethora of toppings including: lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, but they have some non traditional toppings such as: jalapenos, eggs, and A.1. steak sauce.
Unlike other restaurants, Burgers Unlocked don’t charge extra for additional toppings. With the exception of cheese, patties, and bacon, the toppings are free to add to your burger. The restaurant also offers the same homemade BBQ sauce that the House of Pizza and BBQ sold.
Opening a new restaurant can have its challenges, but fortunately for Burgers Unlocked, Furlong brings his life long experience in the restaurant business including his employment under Wayne Babcock.
Babcock founded and owned: Chicago Water, Saucy Dogs, and Olivia’s Chophouse. It was with Babcock’s help, that Key Opportunities was able to transform the House of Pizza and BBQ to Burgers Unlocked in under a month.
“Wayne and I consult about the restaurant, but he’s mostly letting me grab the reins as head manager,” said Furlong. “So far everyone has been really good about keeping things going smoothly.”
Furlong hopes that after his team and the Key Opportunities participants get accustomed to the menu, that he can add more items; perhaps even weekly specials.