Food industry veterans Tom Dentice and Ed Rensi are anything but typical for a pair who climbed the corporate ladder from the very bottom of the organization to the top rungs of management.
After they left McDonald’s in 1999 after nearly 70 years at the company between them, Dentice and Rensi decided to do something more with hamburgers than the company where they started. The result is in Deerfield and four other locations.
, are quick to let people know they did not retire from McDonald’s. “We stopped working at McDonald’s,” Rensi said. “We did not retire. I will never retire.”
The two food industry entrepreneurs began their careers with McDonald’s in Ohio within a year of each other. Dentice was managing a McDonald’s in 1966 when Rensi went to work for him.
By the time they left at nearly the same time, Rensi was the company’s president and chief executive officer for North America while Dentice was senior executive vice president for franchising.
The two Oakbrook residents remained close friends during the first 10 years after they left McDonald’s. Then they got an idea. They put their heads and pocketbooks together and the concept of Tom & Eddie’s began.
Casual Atmosphere Sought
“We wanted a casual place where people could sit a while after eating and enjoy another beverage,” Dentice said.
Rensi explained the cushioned seats are to give people comfort and a motivation to stay. They wanted their restaurant to be a place people could gather.
“We want people to be able to hang out for an hour after dinner,” Rensi said. He wants his business to become the “third place” for people. “It’s not home, it’s not work,” he added describing the concept.
They knew what kind of place they wanted but needed a menu to match. “We wanted to upgrade the burger,” Dentice said. “The baby boomers grew up on hamburgers. Now that they’re 55 to 60 they still want hamburgers but the hamburger had to grow up.”
In addition to ground beef, customers can enjoy burgers made from chicken, turkey or edamame, giving people a vegetarian option. “It’s a veggie burger that’s all protein,” Rensi said. Their creativity is seen all over the menu.
Creativity with Burgers Sought
They hired a consulting chef before they started the restaurant. One of the suggestions was what became the Bushel & Peck — topping a beef patty with Granny Smith apples, Brie cheese, sautéed onions and walnut butter.
“We raised an eyebrow at first,” Dentice said of his reaction when the idea was presented. “Then I took a bite. The creamy Brie cheese and tartness of the apple balances the sweetness.”
Rensi, who traveled the world for McDonald’s, brought an idea to Tom & Eddie’s from Australia. The combination of a beef patty, smoked Gouda cheese, bacon, deep fried onions, barbeque sauce and over easy eggs thrills him. “You taste the egg yolk running through the burger when you bite in,” he said.
With four restaurants in operation and a fifth set to open soon, Dentice and Rensi continue to look for locations. They plan to open more this year and next hoping to climb to 10 to 15 locations. After that, it will be time to reflect.
“Then we have some decisions to make,” Dentice said. “Once we’ve proven the concept we’ll have to decide what to do.”