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Gas station eatery offers fresh-made food

Gas station eatery offers fresh-made food
The turkey club at Urban Counter in Aurora combines smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, grilled thick-cut bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo and avocado on wheat bread. (Shonda Talerico Dudlicek/The Beacon-News)

If you looked up at the menu board for Urban Counter, you'd see half-pound burgers, sandwiches, salads and shakes, just as you'd see at almost any quick-service restaurant.

If you look to the left, you'd know you were in the convenience store inside BP — The Pride gas station in Aurora.

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But like Pride Stores' mission statement reads, "… we prove great food can be made anywhere, even inside a gas station."

The Warrenville-based company combines specialty restaurants in suburban gas stations.

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Urban Counter serves American foods in Aurora, Chicago, Hinsdale, Wheaton and St. Charles, which is a free-standing store serving liquor.

Taco Urbano offers traditional Mexican dishes like tacos, tortas, burritos, sopes and guacamole in Batavia and Villa Park.

All items are made to order and were conceived by corporate chef Adrian Ion five years ago.

"We wanted a concept that was good quality and made to order, locally sourced, good-quality food," said Mario Spina, owner and CEO. "Someone could eat here every day and get something different. You could have a hamburger, sandwiches, a salad, depending on your cravings."

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The most popular items are the breakfast sandwiches and burritos, served until 11 a.m. during the week, and the burgers.

"The breakfast burrito has eggs, black beans, caramelized onions, avocado, cheddar cheese, potatoes and roasted jalapeno," Spina said.

"The half-pound burgers include the Blue Cheese Burger, with blue cheese, bacon and arugula on a brioche bun. All our dressings, everything, is made in house as well."

Spina said people might expect a restaurant inside a gas station to have grab-and-go food, similar to a convenience store or fast food restaurant. "We want to make this spot a true destination for dining," Spina said. "For some it's an adjustment that the food is made to order.

"We're more in-line with a quick-service restaurant. They might be surprised when they're asked, 'How would you like your burger cooked?' but when you're making things in today's atmosphere, people expect fresh, high-quality food and they're willing to wait for it."

Spina said Pride Stores and its restaurants are expanding to Naperville, Palatine and eventually a second location in St. Charles. Breakfast will also be served on the weekends.

"Our goal is pushed as our concept, which is so true. We prove great food can be made anywhere."

About the owners: Spina's father started Pride Stores 34 years ago. A Wheaton native, he joined the family business 15 years ago after earning his MBA from DePaul University.

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Philosophy: "Convenience every day," Spina said.

Decor: "Rustic with a local feel," Spina said.

Price range: Breakfast sandwiches are $2.99. Breakfast burrito is $3.99. Hot dogs are $2.99. Sausages are $3.99. Burgers from $5.99 to $6.49. Mini burgers are $1.89 or three for $4.99. Sandwiches from $3.99 to $6.99. Salads are $5.99. Sides from $1.59 to $3.99. Shakes and malts from $3.49 to $3.99. Kids' menu items are $4.99. Kids' shakes are $2.99.

Logistics: Urban Counter is at 1395 Butterfield Road, Aurora. Hours are 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11-a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Contact 630-800-1497 or urbancounter.com/aurora.html.

Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.

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