Chapman family slings big burgers in little Decatur restaurant

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Customers stand in lines at the pickup window or sit in their cars in the drive-thru to get a taste of the award-winning food at Laura’s Little Burger Joint.

They can’t dine inside the restaurant. The less-than-500-square-foot eatery just outside the village of Decatur is too small for a dining room.

After working in the restaurant industry for more than 15 years, Laura Chapman took a chance in 2009 and bought the local burger stand. It sits along M-51, next to a local tire shop, in the southwest Michigan community of a few thousand people.

“On a good day we go through a 100 pounds, and we get 22 patties out of 10 pounds,” Chapman said. “That’s a lot of burgers for a 9-hour day.”

In 2013, media company MLive, which operates the nearby Kalamazoo Gazette, did a statewide search to find the state’s best burger. Laura’s Little Burger Joint was the top pick.

The restaurant also has made lists of the best burgers in Michigan by Roadfood, Thrillest and others.

Chapman said the bright spot for her long days is seeing customers enjoy her food.

“The customers are more like family than anything else,” Chapman said.

Praise from customers is a big motivator for the entire restaurant staff, said Scott Chapman, Laura Chapman’s brother and a cook at the restaurant.

“To hear them say all the time, ‘It’s the best burger I’ve ever had,’ means a lot,” Chapman said. “It really does. It makes you want to do your job better.”

Scott Chapman and two other family members work closely with Laura Chapman to run the business.

Starting and running your own business more work than many people expect, Scott Chapman said. Statistically, most restaurants fail within their first year opening, according to

“Be prepared to put in your time because it’s going to take all of it,” Scott Chapman said. “For someone who really wants to start a business, they have to really be devoted.”

Laura Chapman said she hopes to pass on the business to her kids one day, but she knows she’ll have to keep working hard to meet her goals.

“It never stops,” she said. “I’m usually the last ones to leave — making sure everything is done and ready for the next day. I’m always on the go.”

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