A 14-year journey to become a Purdue fan favorite
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of an ongoing series featuring restaurants that Boilermaker faithful can frequent before or after a Boilermaker home game. Do you have a favourite? Email Noe Padilla at [email protected]
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – If there was ever a time to make the spontaneous decision to open a restaurant with your best friend, college might be the best time to do it.
This was the case for Adam Warso and Jake Pielet, owners of AJ’s Burgers and Beer.
Although AJ’s is now known for its burgers, beers and late night service, it’s a far cry from what the friends originally envisioned for their restaurant.
“We wanted to be a Chicago-style Italian beef stand,” Warso said.
In 2005, the couple began attending Purdue University and while living in West Lafayette, Chicago natives constantly wondered, “Where’s the Italian beef, Chicago dog, and deep pizza?”
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At first, they thought they were the only people in West Lafayette and the surrounding area who had a craving for Chicago-style food, but as they met other students, they quickly realized that craving was an epidemic of gluttons.
“After we joined the fraternity, we started meeting more people from the Chicagoland area, and we all started wondering, where are the Portillos, the Giordanos? Where was all that food because there were so many locals here? »
These questions haunted the couple for years, or at least until their freshman year at Purdue, when they finally set out to create the answer to their own philosophical conundrum.
“Our freshman year in 2008, we graduated in April or May, and then in August 2008, we opened the restaurant,” Warso said.
“This spring semester, we kind of did the business plan through Entrepreneurship 200 at Purdue. That was the class Jake was taking, wrote the business plan that way, went out and got the loan, and we opened our first location in River Market, in the same neighborhood as Silver Dipper.
The idea of two young graduates to open a restaurant may seem like an immediate and well-deserved reward for their degrees.
There is a problem with this statement – Warso and Pielet did not graduate. Instead, the couple believed in their new business idea so much that they both took a leap of faith and dropped out of college to become entrepreneurs.
“We figured two out-of-state tuition should be enough to open a restaurant, and we were right.”
When Warso and Pielet opened their original location, the restaurant was small, with barely enough room for four tables, a Chicago skyline mural, a register, and the kitchen. But what was even smaller was their original menu: Italian beef, Chicago dogs, loaded fries and burgers.
The couple knew the students would like their food, but they ran into a major problem – they were located at the bottom of the hill and away from all the students.
That’s when the duo came up with an innovative idea, at least for 2008: “Why not just deliver our food?” We will be the first in town to deliver our type of food.
Thus began the era of AJ’s Delivery Fleet, which was a boon to Boilermakers who needed a late-night meal to help them focus on their studies or avoid a hangover the next morning.
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With the rise of services like Grubhub and Uber Eats, AJ no longer needed to have its own dedicated delivery staff, and earlier this year the pair ended the service.
With their early integration of delivery, AJ overcame the geographic problem of being far from campus, and in 2012 the couple were able to move to Chauncey Hill Mall, where they saw their business nearly triple overnight.
Since then, AJ’s has become entrenched in Purdue culture, one of the few places in West Lafayette that potential customers know will be open after a late Purdue game or after a drunken night out.
Over the years, as Warso and Pielet have aged and matured, the restaurant has grown with them.
Starting out as two 20-year-olds, aiming to bring affordable, fast Chicago-style food to the community, growing to 20-year-old men offering college students a place to find cheap beer and burgers, the two are now 35 year. year-old friends who witnessed a lot of changes over the years.
“My parents and a few people we’re close to say the store has grown the way we’ve grown. We opened a place we wanted to go when we were 21, when we were 25 and now 35. We are here, this is a place we would go,” Warso said.
In early 2019, the couple were finally able to move to their “forever location” along Northwestern Avenue. In the mid-2010s, the couple also opened a location in Lafayette, but it closed due to the pandemic.
Warso reflected on the fact that they were finally able to offer the community the restaurant they dreamed of all those years ago, although it now focuses more on burgers and beers than style food Chicago.
Warso and Pielet haven’t given up on their roots — staples from their original Chicago-style menu are still available to order, but items must be ordered by 10:30 p.m.
“Our business plan was all Chicago, from the start. That’s why we opened,” Warso said. “But everyone loved our burgers and that’s where we grew the most. We shrunk the original section and expanded the burger section.”
Although Warso was sad to see the Chicago aspect of the menu fade away, he recalled the 14-year journey he and Pielet were able to take with AJ’s and felt hopeful for a long future. .
He hoped that one day AJ could share a space on the Wall of Fame alongside West Lafayette classics like Bruno’s Pizza and Big O’s Sports Room, Triple XXX Family Restaurant and Harry’s Chocolate Shop.
“It was a wild ride,” Warso said.