It was a perfectly ordinary Wednesday when James Purifoy, owner of popular burger joint 15th & Chris in Rockford, Ill., opened the store at 11 a.m.
Then in walked hometown hero Fred VanVleet, fresh off inking a two-year, $18 million contract following a breakout season with the Toronto Raptors, along with Chad Anderson, a prominent car dealership owner in Rockford.
The two informed Purifoy that they would be buying lunch for the first 100 customers of the day. It didn’t take long for word of mouth to spread and for the line to stretch outside the tiny restaurant.
“It says a lot about Fred to still be here in Rockford and giving back to his community,” Purifoy told the Eagle by phone. “Some other people who have made it out from here, they find somewhere else to put their money. But Fred came down here himself, met with people, shook their hand, took some photos and bought their lunch.
“It just goes to show people here that if they follow their dreams and bet on themselves, then they can achieve what they want to achieve.”
It’s not a rarity to see VanVleet inside 15th & Chris, which Purifoy proudly declares home of the best burgers in Rockford.
He’s even made an original burger for VanVleet — the “Bet on Yourself Burger” — that includes all of the star’s favorites: barbecue sauce, Swiss cheese, bacon, banana peppers, cilantro and a lime-cactus slaw whipped up by Purifoy himself.
Purifoy has seen VanVleet’s generosity before, but Wednesday took him by surprise.
“It’s the fact that he came down here himself when I know he has a busy schedule and spent the time and money to make the day of other people,” Purifoy said. “That’s what makes Fred special.”
Purifoy chuckled when asked to describe the scene when some of the first customers arrived, unaware of what was happening yet.
“When you walk in and find out someone is buying your lunch, that’s a great way for anybody to start their day,” Purifoy said. “That’s like going to the mall with something in mind and then finding out that someone there is buying you everything you want. Some people were like, ‘Shoot, let me get two.’ “
VanVleet will return to Wichita this weekend to host a pair of one-day basketball camps at the YMCA as well as be present for a meet-and-greet with fans at his clothing line’s pop-up shop in the Waterfront on Saturday evening from 6 to 9 p.m.