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Business Spotlight: Small Space, Big Steak

Illinois native Chris Turbov brings a taste of Chicago to a 7-foot-wide storefront downtown

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From its origins as a breezeway to a tiny storefront built in 1905, the 550-square-foot space on Walnut Street in downtown Springfield is home to cheesesteak and burger restaurant 7th on Walnut. Owner Chris Turbov finds himself in the restaurant’s kitchen nearly every day, as his love of cooking and serving Springfield residents is at the heart of his business plan.

Fresh, quality food is what continues to bring customers back, he says, noting he sources ingredients from Roma Performance Foodservice and US Foods. Vegetables for his signature sandwiches and burgers are chopped and prepared fresh, and the fries are made from potatoes cut in-house daily. Due to limited storage in the small space – the eatery is just 7-feet wide – and 7th on Walnut operates on a first-come, first-served basis, as ingredients may run out depending on the day’s traffic.

“Since we are so tight on space some weeks, we will have to order multiple times a week just because we simply can’t store any more once we are full,” Turbov says. “Also, the size will cause us to have to close early on some of our busier days just because we ran out of things we had fully stocked and prepped at the beginning of the day.”

Turbov is in the kitchen cooking Tuesday through Saturday alongside his staff of six, and he says the crew can make up to 720 sandwiches daily. A positive aspect of the quaint space, he says, is that he can cook and mingle with customers.

“I like this little spot. I like cooking. I like hearing customers say how cool this spot is. I like having the music playing and just the fun, cool unique vibes in here,” Turbov says.

He has formed bonds with regulars who come into the restaurant, and they believe the space provides a cozy feel.

Springfield resident and truck driver Tod “Toad” Duncan says his friend introduced him to the restaurant when he moved back to Springfield.

“My friend pointed at this little building, and I thought ‘Why would we eat there?’” says Duncan. “We walked in, and there were tiny things to go with the tiny building and it felt like the ’90s in Chicago.”

He kept going back for The Phoenix, a sandwich comprising grilled steak, a chopped chicken tender, mozzarella cheese and Sriracha sauce. It’s on the secret menu, though, which insiders know to be posted behind a little door and accompanied by a magnifying glass to help customers read the ingredients printed in small type.

Beyond sandwiches and burgers, the restaurant serves fries, chicken tenders, wings and fried mushrooms. Menu items range $4-$14.

Beyond the kitchen
Turbov spends much of his time at the restaurant forming bonds with employees and building his craft. He says this is a change in approach from when he started making burgers and cheesesteaks.

He began his journey with his father, whom he reunited with the summer after his sophomore year of college while he helped with the family’s Shell Knob restaurant, Jalapeno’s. Soon after, Turbov transferred to Missouri State University and together they opened the Chicago Cheesesteak Co. in Ozark.

“I kept bugging my dad saying there’s no sandwich shops like back home,” says Turbov, who spent his adolescence indulging in the typical Chicago cheesesteak comprised of peppers and Italian beef. “He had gotten rid of the restaurant he owned in Shell Knob.”

After graduation, he moved back to suburban Chicago where he spent a few years working at a pharmacy. He returned to Springfield in 2009 after his father experienced a stroke. His dad had already moved the cheesesteak shop to downtown to 319 1/2 E. Walnut St. from Ozark, and they decided to open a second location on Battlefield Road called Chicago Cheesesteak Co.-South.

Years later, Turbov handed over the operations to both locations to former managers while retaining ownership to fulfill a lifelong dream of living in California. He later sold his ownership in the south-side location before coming back to Springfield just before the COVID-19 pandemic to run the downtown location once again, organized under Marge LLC.

Soon after, he rebranded to 7th on Walnut from Chicago Cheesesteak Co.

The name was derived because the storefront has the seventh door on Walnut Street and “fits the vibe of downtown.”

“We wanted to be more creative,” Turbov says. “So, that was another reason for the rebranding.”

Catch the vibe
Upon entering the restaurant, customers can expect to be hit with different aromas of meats and ingredients. Eatery regular Duncan appreciates that he can taste the passion poured into each sandwich he is served.

“This is his passion, and you can tell when you eat his food,” Duncan says about Turbov. “The place doesn’t belong in Springfield, and it’s something so special you’d be really hard pressed to duplicate it.”

The inside is decorated with miniature figurines in a display case and tchotchkes playing on the small theme. There are two tables and three chairs where patrons can eat inside, and Turbov says he also offers pickup and delivery through the store website. While Turbov’s long-term business goals stray from the restaurant industry, noting his dream of opening a dog sanctuary, he says the 7th on Walnut venture has brought him more than the title of being a business owner.

“It’s given me so many incredible relationships; it’s given me so many laughs, opportunities to use my creativity, and just cool and unique stories,” Turbov says. “I have been very lucky and blessed to be able to experience this and all of the people I have met and gotten to talk to and get to know.”

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jeffmunzinger

I hope that ball cap is a Mizzou hat, and not one from Michigan. (But I'm guessing it's Michigan.)

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