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Power trio backs DMK Burger Bar


Carolyn Michael is DMK Burger Bar’s first franchisee, in a food hall in Oak Brook, Illinois.

The first franchisee of DMK Burger Bar, Carolyn Michael in Chicago, is a big fan of the food created by Chef Michael Kornick, a five-time James Beard award nominee with a pedigree in fine dining.

Another attraction was David Grossman, who joined David Morton and Kornick to start franchising midway through last year. Grossman was the master franchisee in Chicago for Freshii, and Michael owns a Freshii franchise in Chicago’s North Loop.

“He and his team provided phenomenal support. They were very, very, very interested in our success, never left us on our own to sink or swim,” she said about her experience with Grossman at Freshii, which she still owns.

The location for her DMK Burger Bar is a challenge. It’s in a food hall in Oakbrook Center, an open-air shopping mall in suburban Chicago.

“It’s going OK. We opened in June, we opened well, and then we hit one of the mall cycles. I wasn’t expecting that, so we took a little bit of a dive in September, October. It’s been a challenge trying to learn those” ups and downs, Michael said.

Burgers range from $8 to $13. A DMK Burger Bar costs $312,500 to $469,000 for a food court location, and $478,000 to $769,500 for an in-line store.

Behind those burgers is Kornick, who is well connected with other celebrity chefs in the business. “Each burger was created with the same integrity as when I was doing fine dining. It was really being craved by lots of people,” he said.

But he’s far from alone in his efforts. Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay announced plans to franchise Bobby’s Burger Palace in November. “I talked to Bobby about it,” Kornick said. “He has a handful of restaurants, and he has spent a lot of time figuring out how he wanted to do it.”

Paul Wahlberg started Wahlburgers in 2014 as a better burger franchise. “Paul Wahlberg got his start, he worked for me in 1991. He was the sous chef for me, in Four Seasons,” Kornick said. “They started with a similar idea. They wanted to be in a neighborhood” where they knew everyone.

David Morton, Michael Kornick and David Grossman

From left, David Morton, Michael Kornick and David Grossman are the three men behind DMK Burger Bar.

“I grew up in fine dining,” he continued, and he noted the many players in the casual dining scene. “What it really means to me, no different than when Bobby puts his name on a burger, or Gordon Ramsay, chefs eat a lot of casual food, and we think about casual food at an elevated level.

David Morton is the third leg of the management team, and his father started Morton’s, the famed steakhouse. “He bought and sold, many times,” said Morton, who is featured in our regular column Living Large in each issue. But the pedigree goes further. “My brother Peter started the Hard Rock Café company in London. My family has a fun track record of building noteworthy brands around the country.”

Before starting their first DMK Burger Bar, eight years ago, Morton and Kornick “spent a better part of a year traveling the country and eating burgers,” Morton said, and they’ve got their favorites.

The No. 1, as described by Chef Kornick, is his personal No. 1 as well: “It’s a wonderful Kansas City-style barbecue sauce, it’s aged Wisconsin white cheddar cheese, it’s applewood smoked bacon, a thick cut. Then I take red onions and I slice them rather thick, and really char them, to dark black, and it gets a little drizzle of true balsamic vinegar.”

For Grossman, it’s the No. 4, which Grossman describes in rapturous terms. “When you bite into that burger and the egg is cooked perfectly, and the egg just oozes into your mouth, that flavor profile, with New Mexican hash green chiles…”

As for Carolyn Michael, the Chicago franchisee, she picks the turkey burger as her favorite but doesn’t wax poetic, saying simply, “I went to try their burgers, and they were the best burgers I ever tasted. Honestly.”

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