Sandwiched between 7-Eleven and Binny's Beverage Depot, the storefront of Everest Burger fits snugly in a string of businesses on Green Bay Road. Inside, Margarita Challenger answered phones, took orders and served up burgers at 91 Green Bay Rd.
What began as a way to pay school tuition has become a passionate livelihood for the 41-year-old restauranteur, who also owns Guanajuato Contemporary Mexican & Tequila Bar, 73 Green Bay Rd, with her husband, Mark.
"My mom trained me to be a housewife but I didn't want to do that," said Challenger, who was the first in her family to go to college. "When I came here and tried to have a career, my English was not good enough and I had no way to pay for myself."
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After studying international business and accounting, Challenger moved to the U.S., where she opted for a short-term, two-year chef program.
"I consider myself practical," said the native of Guanajuato, Mexico. "I knew how to cook and I definitely knew how to eat. This was my way to figure out something else to do later."
After graduation, Challenger got married, did a bit of catering, and devoted her time to her family. She lives in Long Grove with her husband and their four children, ages 11 to 16.
As she experimented in her cooking at home, Challenger realized she wanted to expand the reach of her recipes.
In September 2008, Challenger opened her first full restaurant, Guanajuato Contemporary Mexican & Tequila Bar, and later opened Everest Burger in February 2011.
"We loved cooking burgers at home," she said. "We liked them so much, we thought there was potential [for a store]."
The theme of home cooked food rings true at both establishments, where everything is made in house, according to Challenger.
"My whole idea is natural food," she said, referencing the in-house bakery at Everest Burger. "You look at the labels [of processed food], and they all have high fructose. Here, our ambition is to make three to four things better than anywhere else."
One year since Everest Burger's opening, Challenger said it is not quite profitable.
"We're just kind of making it," she said, acknowledging the stress and responsibility of the restaurant business.
"I take it seriously because I do feel like the restaurants are my babies, but I also feel like the customers are my family and I want to serve food that my children can eat. If my children cannot eat it, my customers cannot eat it either. I want to do something that I feel proud about."