Keep the Hamburger, lose the Mary's

Oak Park Brewing to cut ties with franchise in new year

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

Since opening in 2016, Hamburger Mary's has been synonymous with Oak Park Brewing Co., 155 S. Oak Park Ave. As the new year approaches, however, the local brewpub is cutting ties with the franchise.

"Oak Park Brewing will be LGBTQ friendly no matter what," said co-owner, Jim Cozzens. "Hamburger Mary's was fun, but it wasn't as big a draw as I thought it would be and it was confusing to people that we were two restaurants in one."

The energy levels between the two businesses were often incompatible and created logistical challenges for both staff and customers. According to Cozzens, Hamburger Mary's shows would bring a sudden influx of customers into the restaurant and large group orders would frequently "sink the kitchen" and increase wait times for customers dining in the brewery.

"Now we can cut down on wait times for food and limit distracting noise for families looking to enjoy a quiet dinner at the brewpub," said Cozzens.

COVID-19 gave Cozzens and his new business partners the opportunity to begin making changes to their business model. The room that formerly housed Hamburger Mary's has already been transformed into a flexible seating annex and private event space. Indoor dining space is at a premium with social distancing requirements in place and the multiuse space has increased Oak Park Brewing's capacity by 75 seats. 

Cozzens opted to keep the stage installed to make the room conducive to business meetings and special events. Additionally, he intends to continue offering comedy and charitable bingo nights as part of the independent business model.

Giving up the Hamburger Mary's franchise has also given Oak Park Brewing Co. more control over its  menu. Cozzens says they plan to streamline their burger offerings to allow deep dish pizzas to make an appearance on the menu for the first time. Customers can expect popular items like the fried tomato BLT to remain on the menu while new sandwiches, desserts and house-made sodas will bring a fresh feel to the menu.

In addition to refining the menu the newly independent brewpub is also bottling their beer for the first time. Cozzens is focused on building their delivery business to include beer by employing independent Basset certified delivery drivers who check identification upon delivery. 

Cozzens started brewing beer out of his college dorm room 10 years ago before attending the Siebel Institute of Technology, a vocational school focused on brewing sciences. The passionate brewer also grew up visiting Oak Park. When he opened Oak Park Brewing, he had set out to create a brewpub with a distinctly Oak Park aesthetic with prairie style design references.

"I want Oak Park Brewing to be a place where you never question where you are," said Cozzens. "I want the experience to match Oak Park in every way and be a place where people can enjoy pleasant service and a nice relaxing meal."


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