Jesse Mack believes in the theory that if you build it — in this case, a fabulous cheeseburger — the people will come. It's a theory that doesn't always fly in Lee's Summit, where burger baron Ernesto Peralto — the big cheese behind the Blanc Burgers + Bottles empire — learned the hard way that boutique snack shacks can be tough sells in Lee's Summit.
But Unk's Burgers, which Mack and his wife, Faye, opened in the former Holy Smoke Barbecue space in the Summit Shopping Center last November, isn't serving gourmet burgers. Jesse Mack is proud of the simplicity of his menu: There are four burger choices as well as a grilled turkey burger, a grilled or crispy fried chicken sandwich, and fried chicken tenders. You want sides with that? There are six choices: seasoned fries, sweet-potato fries, beer-battered onion rings, peppercorn-battered onion rings, fried pickles and "Auntie's baked beans" (prepared with ground turkey and Mack's own mix of seasonings).
Jesse Mack says he was interested in getting into the restaurant business because "I'm a people person. I need to be around people."
Mack's vivacious personality is the drawing card inside the tan, red and black storefront, where customers are encouraged to call out, "Hey, Unk!" if he's back in the kitchen grilling burgers with his nephew, Tony Mack, or his sons. It's an all-family operation, with even 8-year-old daughter Jaye seating customers and passing out menus.
"I know the restaurant business can be difficult," Mack says, "but nothing has been that hard since we opened our doors. I really wanted to do this."
This summer, Mack plans to introduce smoked chicken wings to his menu, but he's staying simple right now. The four featured burgers are all between 5 and 6 ounces, made with fresh ground beef grilled on a flattop range. The signature burger is just that: a hamburger cooked and topped to order. The "Sweet Auntie Burger" is the same but topped with bread-and-butter pickles. The "Bodacious Baked Bean Burger" has been laden with a couple of hefty spoonfuls of the meaty baked beans, and the "Double Basement Boy Burger" features two grilled beef patties.
"We designed the double burger," Mack says, "for boys who still live with their parents and eat the family out of house and home."
Mack offers lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and traditional condiments as "free toppings." He charges for cheese — currently American, pepper jack and bleu (he's thinking of adding cheddar soon) — and sauteed mushrooms, fried egg, fried pickles, baked beans, and crispy bacon. There's not a veggie burger on the menu yet. "But we're thinking about it," Mack says.
Mack says he called the burger shop Unk's because "I'm the uncle to a lot of nieces and nephews and a lot of other kids, too, who aren't related to me."
Unk's Burgers is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The venue is closed on Sunday.