Jesse Mack wants customers to feel at home when they walk into Unk’s Burgers, but the customer service is not fake or forced.
Mack and his family, who operate as a unit the nearly two-year-old restaurant in the Summit Shopping Center in Lee’s Summit, share a belief that patrons who walk inside the doors at 240 N.W. Oldham Parkway are family, and he is ‘the uncle that you never knew you had.’
“It’s a great feeling,” Mack said Aug. 8 as he and his family prepared for a weekend family reunion trip to the Lake of the Ozarks in Camdenton. Mack’s wife, Faye, has family from southeast Missouri and they are all gathering in Camdenton for an annual celebration. “Everyone in the family works. It was created for them (Mack’s children) to hang out. Now, it has been created for them to now possibly do something with it. I couldn’t do it without them. Two reasons; one, the trust factor, and the fact that they are (like) me. They love people just as well as I do. I mean it shows. It’s not an act.”
Customers light up Internet restaurant review sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon and Google Reviews with superlatives for Unk’s Burgers. Food bloggers swear by the well-seasoned, onion-infused burgers with endless possibilities for toppings. Food lovers appreciate the spices and seasonings of the patties, and most are passionate about the choice sides.
But, it is the customer service that makes the Mack family business a household name around town.
“It’s a mixture,” Mack said. “Obviously the food, but it’s also our customer service. It’s our fellowship, camaraderie – or whatever word you want to use – with our customers. It’s just not customer service in a commercial sense. It’s more of a hospitality is what it is more so than customer service. We’re appreciative of everyone that walks through the door.”
Added Faye Mack: “I think it’s been really terrific; a great journey that we’ve embarked upon. When we first started, you just don’t know how it’s all going to come together. You don’t know if you’re going to get the community’s support, you don’t know if they’re going to like your food – the family does, but not necessarily the public. I think we have been pleasantly surprised that folks have enjoyed the food, they’ve enjoyed the service immensely and the fact that they have embraced us in this community, I think it speaks volumes about the Lee’s Summit area.”
Unk’s Burgers is a derivative of Uncle, or Unc for short. Mack threw in the ‘k’ to give the business a unique spin. The name ‘Unc’ has been associated with Mack for as long as he can remember.
“Before I even had kids, I made sure my nieces and nephews called me ‘Uncle,’” he said. “I mean, they would call me ‘Uncle’ before they would call anyone else ‘Uncle’ or sometimes even before they would say ‘Daddy’ to their dad. I was the uncle that would always take my nieces and nephews to the park, play ball, sledding, whatever, I was that guy; that uncle.
“Well, when I would do that, they would have friends that would want to come along as well and they all starting calling me ‘Uncle’ or ‘Uncle Jesse’ or ‘Unc.’ As I got older, it stayed. When I started thinking about what I wanted to name this place, I just thought of ‘Unc’s.’ I figured that’s a personal relationship with everyone. I get an enjoyment when people call me ‘Unc’ and they’re not my biological niece and nephew.
“When I talk to customers or when I see them out somewhere, they’ll holler, ‘hey, Unc!’ It feels good; that really feels good. A lot of people, when they come in, they are thrown off by the U.N.K. They ask, what is U.N.K?” I tell ‘em it stands for ‘Uncle.’ I’m your favorite uncle you never knew you had and they get a chuckle out of that. It’s just personable that way.”
Jesse Mack, Faye and sons Jesse Jr., 24, and Justen, 22, and daughter Jaye, 10, all have their hands in the business. Their roles inside the venue are flexible, interchangeable and not at all defined. They switch tasks often, but the goal remains the same: serve quality food with love.
“They appreciate us treating them that way,” Jesse Mack said. “It’s not customer service, it’s hospitality.”
Jaye, who helps greet customers, brings them menus and their drink orders, loves her role in the operation. The youngest, Jaye’s allowance has increased because of her dedication in helping.
“I like the customers and I like to wait on them and get them their drinks and take their orders,” Jaye said. “That’s my favorite part.”
And the older brothers Jaye shares time with at the restaurant? She said they treat her just fine – most of the time.
“Well, it depends on the day, actually,” Jaye said. “Sometimes they’re mean, but they can be pretty nice.”
Unk’s Burgers features five hamburger options – always fresh and never frozen patties, Jesse Mack said – on its menu and a grilled or crispy chicken sandwich in addition to a garden chicken sandwich and chicken tenders. Sides include French fries, seasoned fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings and Auntie’s turkey baked beans.
The baked beans bore from Jesse Mack’s resistance to pork.
“I don’t eat pork,” he said. “So, I don’t get to enjoy baked beans at barbeque restaurants and when we have cookouts and things like that. So, my wife started to make baked beans with ground turkey about four years ago and they were outstanding to say the least. I put those on my burger, or on a hotdog or whatever. When I opened and I put that on the menu, my family was like, ‘really? Are you really going to put this on the menu?’
“The Bodacious Baked Bean Burger is actually our number one specialty burger. The combination of sweet and spicy all in one on the burger is unbelievable.”
The next step
During the Downtown Days street festival in Lee’s Summit in June, Mack and company were perched inside their food truck serving up their much-recommended offerings. The public stop was just one of a handful the Macks have made over the last year. Although there are no plans to become street vendors, the family does plan to use the vehicle as a promotional tool to help spread the word and share their goods.
“Kind of like the business itself, we don’t advertise; or very little,” Mack said. “We kind of want to grow into it and learn the business. We don’t want to get bombarded and not be able to handle it. With the food truck, it’s the same way. We don’t want to be a street vendor. We want to be more an event vendor, or do special request, customer appreciation/employee appreciation type-things for companies. It’s slow moving, but it’s OK because we learn as we go.”
The upcoming weekend
It weighs heavy on Jesse Mack’s heart that Unk’s Burgers will close around 2 p.m. Aug. 9 and won’t reopen until 11 a.m. Aug. 12.
With Faye Mack’s family reunion going down in Camdenton, the Macks made the tough decision to close the restaurant for the weekend, load up the food truck and take time to enjoy family. Running an all-inclusive family business six days a week has some drawbacks, but not many, Jesse Mack said.
“That’s the disadvantage of having family work with you,” he said. “Being a family business, when there is an event, everyone is going. That’s what is happening in this case. Family is very important. I have many nieces and nephews that I don’t get to see that I want to see how they’ve grown and things like that. We’ll be closed – I don’t know what to say other than for that reason. I hate that I’m going to miss seeing everyone back in Lee’s Summit.”