Rockford man finds fresh start at bustling burger joint

ROCKFORD, Ill. — For 10 years James Purifoy was identified by the number on his prison uniform. Today, he runs one of the best burger joints in Illinois.

WGN's Erin Ivory has the story.

Nothing about 15th & Chris is what you’d expect. The restaurant at 201 15th Ave. in Rockford, Ill., sits unassumingly at the corner of a housing project. Inside there are no tables — just elbow-to-elbow customers and a familiar face at the helm: James Purifoy.

"I love burgers," Purifoy says. "So if I can create burgers all day and watch people enjoy them, I'm happy with that."

Purifoy's obsession with burgers began when he was a kid — and we're not just talking the standard cheese, pickles and ketchup type. Purifoy's concoctions lean more Willy Wonka, loaded with fried pork, jalapeño jam, eggs, bacon and parmesan-crusted onion rings.

The line regularly stretches around the store an hour before 15th & Chris even opens. People drive from all over to try one of Purifoy's crazy concoctions.

"Oh yeah," customer Chad Owens says. "Everybody talks about [15th & Chris], says you gotta get a burger. ... I got this one with muenster cheese and mesquite barbecue [sauce]. ... It was really nice."

Purifoy built his business on this corner for a reason, he says. It's just blocks from where he grew up with a single mother and five siblings. Things weren't easy. ... By high school, Purifoy was in a gang, dealing drugs and running into trouble with the law. When he was 17, Purifoy shot a rival gang member and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"I took my losses and now I'm coming to get my victories," Purifoy says. "You live and you learn. ... I'm more motivated by the time I lost out on being in the pen, versus everything that's going on with 15th & Chris right now."

Which is why, when he got out, Purifoy went back to that same neighborhood to get it right.

"For him to start here in this neighborhood was a really great thing," employee Martez Lockhart says.

There may not be redemption in a burger, but on the corner of 15th and Christiana, James Purifoy comes pretty close.