ST. CHARLES – With the state currently banning indoor dining because of a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases along with hospitalizations, AJ Sliders is a restaurant made for the times.
The restaurant, which opened in late September at 2075 Prairie St., Suite 110 in St. Charles (near the Jewel-Osco store) doesn't have a dining room. Food is available for takeout and delivery.
For owner Lance Bell, the opening of the restaurant marked the end of a long journey.
"The planning of this started in 2012," he said. "When we pushed the gas pedal down, it was October of last year. Right as we were getting ready to submit blueprints to the city of St. Charles is when COVID hit. But because there was no dining room, we went on through and made it happen."
On Thursday, St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina welcomed AJ Sliders to the community.
"It's a new choice residents are going to have in a good location, here near Randall Road," Rogina said as part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce. "We wish you nothing the best and continued success."
Business has been booming at the restaurant.
"We've had 19 record days in the last eight weeks," Bell said. "So it's headed in the right direction."
He has a restaurant background, which includes opening eight Outback Steakhouse restaurants in the Chicago area. He also helped open Flatlanders restaurant and brewery in Lincolnshire.
The South Elgin resident also is the president and CEO of software company ServingIntel. AJ Sliders is a customer of ServingIntel.
Living up to its name, AJ Sliders sells a variety of sliders, including the BBQ pork slider, filet slider, chicken slider, veggie slider and the restaurant's signature revelations slider – a blend of ground beef, pepper jack cheese and a choice of jalapeno buffalo, habanero or ghost pepper sauces.
As one could imagine, that slider carries its fair share of heat – which is fine by Bell.
"I love hot, spicy food," he said. "You can feel it as it goes through your intestines."
Salads, sugar-free sodas and desserts – including key lime pie and strawberry pie – round out the menu. The restaurant prides itself on selling food that is not just good, but also good for you.
That includes not using wheat in its slider buns.
"The primary ingredients are almond flour and cheese," Bell said. "So there's no gluten, there's no wheat and it's very low carb. It's real food and it fills you up. You don't need a big burger."
There are four ingredients that you won't find in the restaurant – soy, gluten, wheat and sugar. Bell has improved his own health by cutting carbs out his life.
"As I got older, my weight kept going up," he said. "And finally I had to address it and I decided to address it with low carbs. It worked incredibly well. I lost like 30 pounds in 2 1/2 months."
Alongside its sliders, the restaurant sells loaded freedom fries.
"In a way, you could say its freedom from starch," Bell said. "There's no fryers. Everything is baked."
And the fries are made out of rutabaga rather than potatoes, which is another healthy substitute.
"Rutabagas are 1/3 the calories of a potato, and they're high in vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals so they're healthy for you," Bell said. "When you look at it, it looks just like a french fry, except it's got a different flavor profile. It actually comes across as a little sweet, even though there's no sugar in it."
Bell is a Christian and as such, wants his business to impact the world for Jesus Christ. AJ Sliders supports four local charities – Fox Valley Christian Action, Hero's Rest/Shalam Ministries, Lazarus House and Wayside Cross Ministries.
He already has plans to open more AJ Sliders restaurants in the Fox Valley. But the next two locations he envisions will feature plenty of indoor dining.
"They're going to be called AJ's Hangouts, so people can come in and families can sit together and eat in a post-COVID world," Bell said.