It came down to pizza or burgers.
In 2007, after four years as chief development officer at Potbelly’s, Tom Jednorowicz decided to strike out on his own and start a restaurant. He studied lots of concepts, before finally narrowed it down to two.
The choice to strike out into burger territory and found the restaurant chain Meatheads—which opened its Northbrook location in July 2009—was “kind of a coin toss,” Jednorowicz jokes.
Choosing which nonprofit would benefit from the company’s ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ campaign was a snap, however, says the Wilmette resident. For each “random act of kindness” that a follower tweets or posts on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Meatheads will donate 25 cents to Aspire, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities. The ultimate goal is 10,000 acts—or a $2,500 donation.
Northbrook Patch sat down with the co-owner of Meatheads to talk about the campaign, the company, and of course, burgers.
Patch: How did you choose Aspire?
Jednorowicz: At Meatheads, we’re really about trying to help people that help themselves. We have a promotion we do for youth athletic leagues, called ‘Meathead of the Game,’ which is awarded to kids who demonstrate hustle and hard work. We’re about trying to get people involved and get them active. That’s really what Aspire is about with mentally and physically handicapped people; they work to making those folks productive members of society.
Patch: What are some notable acts you’ve heard of so far?
Jednorowicz: The ones I like the most are the little ones…a woman had misplaced her cell phone, and somebody volunteered to call it for her so it would ring and she would know where it was. It’s great if we can create some monumental random acts of kindness, but to me it’s really about the little things that just really resonate with people, where they recognize that it doesn’t have to be this big monumental undertaking. Just be aware as you go out in the day: help somebody out today.
Patch: What's one act of kindness you’ve done since the campaign began?
Jednorowicz: I was in Wilmette and I was driving downtown the other day, driving on Green Bay Road, and there’s a guy in his suit and tie and his briefcase, running to catch the train. I opened the door and drove him to his train
As I drove downtown I realized how good I felt about the thing. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it on a regular day, but I should.
Patch: This campaign is being done largely through social media. Why is that sort of presence important to Meatheads?
Jednorowicz: I am personally kind of the antithesis of social media. I don’t have a Facebook page, I don’t want you to know where I am today, if its sunny or cloudy or any of that. But you realize that, one of the sets of guiding principles in our company and our plan is we want to ingrain ourselves in the communities we’re located….It became more and more aware to me that social media was a way to directly connect with your customer, and specifically your customer, not just generic people, but people who embrace your brand, your company, your product, your ideology—that it was worth some effort on our behalf to cultivate an audience.
Patch: You’ve got five Meatheads stores in the area and one under construction in Normal. Any plans for more to come?
Jednorowicz: It looks like we’re going to have another location in Buffalo Grove, Arlington Heights. And we’ve got a couple more locations that we’re kind of kicking the tires on now…. We plan on continuing to open up three four five units a year, and we’ll see where it takes us.
Patch: So, how many burgers do you eat each week?
Jednorowicz: Way more than my doctor probably says I should! I probably eat at Meatheads five times a week. And I probably eat burgers three of those five times. I’m good for a chicken sandwich a week and a hot dog a week.
Patch: What are your favorites on the Meatheads menu?
Jednorowicz: Patty melt’s definitely my go to burger. The mint chip shake is definitely my favorite milkshake. And I’m old school, an original fry guy.
Anyone who wants to participate in the campaign can do so by tweeting with the hash tag #meatheadsact, writing on Meatheads' Facebook page or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.