By Carol Flynn
This is the first in a new BAPA series on “Legacy Businesses” featuring businesses that have a historical presence in the Beverly/Morgan Park community.
Beverly/Morgan Park loves the Top Notch Beefburger Shop and Top Notch loves Beverly/Morgan Park.
That sums up the relationship between the community and the restaurant that have been doing business together for almost 82 years.
The ownership of Top Notch has stayed with the Soulian family since the beginning, and Lois Taylor Soulian, today’s owner, shared her views of their relationship with our community.
“Since 1942, we’ve been serving you,” said Soulian. “That’s the motto for Top Notch. We’ve been in Beverly for so long and everybody knows us. The Beverly people are wonderful, they love the burgers and are so loyal, and our staff loves them back.”
Kim Tobin, the general manager for Top Notch, who has been with the restaurant for 29 years, agreed.
“Top Notch wouldn’t be what it is today without the support of the Beverly community,” said Tobin. “It’s such a strong community. I feel very close to the people. I love it here.”
The reputation of Top Notch, located at 2116 W. 95th St., extends far beyond neighborhood boundaries. For decades, the restaurant has been included on lists of the best burger places across the nation and, among other media, they have been profiled on Chicago’s Best and Check, Please.
For example, in 2021, Food and Wine Magazine published an article on “The Best Burger in Every State.” Wrote author David Landsel about the offerings in Illinois: “The ones you’ve heard of may sound essential, but ask around – flavors of the month come and go, so call us when one of them outlasts the accurately named Top Notch Beefburgers on the South Side.”
That reputation for great burgers is not likely to ever change because Top Notch has kept true to its original recipe and mission for all this time, and, according to Soulian, has no intention of changing.
The “secret” to Top Notch’s success is really no secret. Kitchen operations are overseen by head cook Sam Gomez, who has been with Top Notch for almost 35 years. They use USDA choice beef round steak that is ground daily on site, creating a very tender, flavorful burger. The burgers are always fresh, never frozen.
The story of Top Notch is a true American success story. The Soulian family immigrated from Armenia in the early 1900s. To make ends meet during the Great Depression in the 1930s, John Soulian apparently worked two jobs, one in the J.P. Smith shoe factory and the other selling hot dogs from a pushcart in downtown Chicago. Asanette Soulian, married to John, helped earn money to feed the family by opening a small burger place in 1937 to sell lunches to school children in the neighborhood.
That burger place on 47th Street became very popular and its reputation soon spread far beyond the children at lunch time. The Soulians went into the burger business full time, opened a place on 79th Street in 1942, and named their restaurant “Top Notch,” a slang term, began in the 1860s, meaning the highest quality.
Top Notch kept growing. They moved to 95th Street in 1954, and they relocated to the present address in 1968.
The Soulians had two sons, Diran and William, both of whom served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. Both became involved in Top Notch, but eventually Diran took over the 95th Street place.
Diran’s wife Lois, who loves trains and at the age of 80 still takes the Rock Island line downtown every day to her accounting job with Metra, became owner upon his death in 2012. She never even considered selling the family business.
“When we met, Diran served me a burger and he won my heart,” said Lois. “When he was in the hospital towards the end, all the crew was there, and they assured him they were going to continue Top Notch and nothing was ever going to change. There was no way I wasn’t going to keep it going.”
The friendly, comfortable, old-fashioned “diner” is now ably run by Tobin and Gomez, under the watchful eye of Soulian.
Top Notch weathered the COVID pandemic, thanks to the support of the community.
“Our customers were super loyal. They ordered carryout during the pandemic, and tipped generously. They were glad we remained open,” said Tobin, “and we were really grateful for all of them.”
In June, someone broke through the ceiling of the restaurant to steal from the ATM machine. The restaurant was closed for several weeks as the damage was repaired. Carry-out was able to open sooner and the community stepped up with its support.
“The customers coming in were offering their services to help fix up whatever needed to be fixed,” said Tobin. “Like I said, the community is such a strong support to Top Notch.”
Today’s menu goes beyond burgers, fries, and shakes, to include a variety of sandwiches, salads, and dinners. The food is all top notch. The future plans for the restaurant are to keep things the way they’ve been all along.
In other words, don’t mess with success.
Call 773-445-7218 to place a carry-out order or learn more.