By Bob Uphues
For 23 days in March, Will Natsheh couldn't bear to look at Burger Colony, the little hamburger stand at 8819 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield. And the business was hard to avoid because he lives nearby.
"I was looking at this place, almost crying," said Natsheh, who is known simply as Will Nat to his customers, "because it was like someone stole my baby."
Natsheh had managed Burger Colony since before it opened in December 2015. He was the one who came up with the name, the logo, and the menu of gourmet burgers and hand-cut fries that drew an immediate following and positive reviews on social media.
By the end of February, according to Natsheh, the business was breaking even, but that wasn't good enough for the investors, who wanted a better return. So they forced out Natsheh, rebranded the place as Burger Colony Loaded and hired a new management team.
The new crew started March 1, along with a new menu. Fries were no longer hand cut, burgers no longer were infused with Natsheh's seasoning blend. And the patties were no longer flipped by Bilal Beniomar, with whom Natsheh honed the original menu in 2015.
Business plummeted. Less than a month later, Will Nat was hired back as manager. The burger stand re-opened March 31 with Natsheh in charge and Beniomar working the grilltop.
"It was heaven," Natsheh said of his return. "Everyone from the neighborhood came by."
The last 10 months or so have been a real learning experience for Natsheh, a native of Israel who was living near New York City last spring when he got a call from his uncle, who had just leased the former Chicago Burgerwurks building.
Natsheh had food service experience, having worked in hotels in Israel, including a six-month stop at a burger restaurant there.
"Burgers have become a big thing in Israel recently," Natsheh said.
He had also worked for a dotcom startup and had bounced around a bit between Israel, London and New York.
"I didn't know what to do," he said.
His uncle asked if he had any interest in managing a new burger place in the suburbs of Chicago, a place Natsheh had never been. In May he arrived in town and began working on the parking lot and building which, he said, "was totally destroyed."
Along the way, he met Beniomar, a Jordanian national, through a friend. Beniomar had experience as a cook at a restaurant serving Middle Eastern cuisine.
While it took a bit longer than expected, Burger Colony opened in December 2015, with an eye on becoming a worthy successor to Chicago Burgerwurks, which served as its inspiration.
"There was a love for that place," Natsheh said. "So we said, 'Let's do the same.'"
Natsheh learned early on that Brookfield customers aren't shy about letting him know how he's doing — both good and bad. But he welcomes the suggestions, Facebook messages and the generous help he's received from regulars, who have gone so far as to call him up when they're at a club grocer to see if he needs anything for the kitchen.
"I can learn something every second," Natsheh said. "It's improved because I've listened to people."
Burger Colony is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.