Assistant Manager Gloria Thompson and Head Manager Dustin Furlong display the new Burgers Unlocked menu inside the new restaurant. Collegian|Austin Gergens

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.