Erik Nance is expanding his restaurants helping give out free meals and get neighborhood kids working with Mikkey's Retro Grill. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]
HYDE PARK — Mikkey’s Retro Grill opened Monday promising cheap burgers for nearly every diet and meals for more than its customers.
Erik Nance said he’s put as many people to work as he can and even let homeless people sleep on the floor while working to open his second restaurant in Hyde Park at 5319 S. Hyde Park Blvd.
“I like to renovate people’s lives,” Nance said between shifts training the new employees.
Nance said he’s venturing into burgers and chicken wings but keeping the mission to give back to the neighborhood that started three years ago when he opened Litehouse Whole Foods Grill.
According to Nance, Litehouse has given out more than 23,000 free meals in the past three years and he’s made an effort to hire South Side kids who would otherwise have a hard time finding jobs coming out of high school.
“I don’t turn my back on them,” Nance said. “I teach them how to pick up a spatula instead of a gun.”
But Nance’s goal is more than altruistic, he’s also trying to challenge the city’s gourmet burger joints with a cheeseburger that’s less than $6.
“My favorite burger is Au Cheval and I thought I could top that,” Nance said.
Nance’s burger challenges the West Loop's restaurant’s $10.95 cheeseburger with a $6 cheeseburger with Angus beef and tomatoes, red onions, pickles, lettuce, cheese and “Hey Mikkey Sauce.”
But Mikkey’s is trying to serve the neighborhood’s diverse eating habits, too, with salmon, turkey and veggie burgers, Nance said.
“In Hyde Park, you can literally shake the hand of a vegetarian, pescatarian, meatatarian and a vegan all on the same block,” Nance said.
Nance is fiercely devoted to Hyde Park and Mikkey’s is only his most recent attempt to fill the holes he sees in the neighborhood.
He said Mikkey’s provides an affordable option for families for dinner and a place to grab a milkshake before going on a walk through Harold Washington Park.
It also expands the neighborhood's late-night options as one of the few restaurants open until 4 a.m.
On the second full day for Mikkey’s, Nance was already thinking about the Hyde Park’s other gaps, including somewhere for teenagers to go.
Pointing to the high rises of East Hyde Park, Nance said he was certain that in every building there were teenagers smoking weed and playing video games.
“That’s when the dark thoughts start happening, when you’re in the house all alone,” Nance said.
He said an arcade or something like Dave & Buster’s is needed on the South Side to get kids out of the house and into constructive social situations.
“If I can do that, I think I can get the violence in Hyde Park to less than 1 percent,” Nance said.
For now, Nance is getting Mikkey’s started, but he said he’s only 39 and now knows how to get a restaurant going quickly — Mikkey’s opened less than four months after he signed the lease. So the next project for Nance might not be that far away.
Mikkey's Retro Grill's burgers are Erik Nance's challenge to himself to build a burger as good as Au Cheval's famed burger for nearly half the price. [Courtesy of Mikkey's Retro Grill]
Mikkey's Retro Grill came together very quickly, with Erik Nance opening the burger place in less than four months after signing the lease. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]
One of Nance's goals with Mikkey's Retro Grill was to create food that family's could afford but still tasted high-end. [Courtesy of Mikkey's Retro Grill]
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