Tag: Small business

Ravinia Brewing opens new taproom in Logan Square

A family-friendly establishment, Ravinia Brewing’s new taproom recently opened in Logan Square, adding an incredible destination where you can enjoy innovative craft beers and freshly made Mexican street fare.

Located at 2601 W. Diversey Avenue in between the Green Exchange and the Kennedy Expressway, the much-anticipated opening comes two years after the business began brewing beer on this site.

A relative newcomer to the thriving craft beer scene, Ravinia Brewing began distribution in 2017, growing out of the Ravinia District in Highland Park where the company opened its first location, an award-winning taproom and taco bar.

The menu at the new taproom features a variety of mouth-watering Mexican street food such as hand-pressed tortillas and tacos (see below left) along with breakfast burritos, bowls, salads, and dynamic vegetarian options.

And the beer selection is an amazing compliment to the food offerings. Some of the available beers include the Diversey Station, a session pale ale, and small-batch limited releases such as the Isle of Hops, a hazy IPA, and Casa de Guava, a Berliner Weisse.

The new taproom has a creative floorplan with window swings, intimate booths, bar service, and retractable garage doors. The design reflects Ravinia Brewing’s strong commitment to protecting the health and safety of its customers as well as its three core pillars of “Community, Craft, and Creation.”

If you visit the taproom, you can take comfort knowing the company is following strict COVID-19 protocols including requiring masks, social distancing, and providing hand sanitizer.

The new space also includes Chicago history as the bar dates back to a pre-Prohibition establishment located at Diversey Avenue and Halsted Street.

And you can escape behind the taproom to a hidden beer garden decorated with string lights and barrels. The garden offers plenty of room to enjoy late night entertainment and host private events.

Getting to Ravinia Brewing’s new location is relatively easy via public transportation as you can hop on the CTA’s #76 Diversey Bus, which will drop you off in front of the taproom. And the brewpub is within walking distance for most residents of Avondale and Logan Square.

For people driving, it’s easy to get to the taproom from the Kennedy Expressway. There’s a small private parking lot on the south side of Diversey Avenue just east of the business and street parking nearby.

Currently, the new brewpub is open: Tuesday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

North Branch Works members and supporters can help Ravinia Brewing Company by visiting the taproom frequently. You can also purchase beer to go in person.

Please follow Ravinia Brewing on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Sign up for the latest news and specials here.

We’re thrilled to welcome Ravinia Brewing Company to the neighborhood and look forward to supporting the company’s continued success and growth.

With questions and to connect with Ravinia Brewing, please contact: info@raviniabrewing.com

Image credits: Ravinia Brewing Company

 

 

The Alley Chicago celebrates its 45th year anniversary in June

After developing an interest in business as a high school student at Holy Name Cathedral, Mark Thomas launched the Alley Chicago, an iconic family-owned business that served Lakeview for over forty years at Belmont Avenue and Clark Street.

Last year, the business moved to Avondale and is now located at 2620 W. Fletcher Street (pictured above). A retail and manufacturing operation, the Alley Chicago designs and sells counter-culture leather, footwear, jewelry, belt buckles, and t-shirts.

It’s well-known for its vast collection of Goth, Punk, Metal, Motorcycle, and Chicago merchandise. The business also carries a wide variety of products so it’s a great place to look for and purchase items—especially as we look for opportunities to support small businesses during the pandemic.

On June 6, 2021, the Alley Chicago will celebrate its 45th anniversary in business. Stay tuned for more details about how you can celebrate this remarkable achievement.

The Alley Chicago prides itself on being a safe and accepting environment for people of all backgrounds and lifestyle orientations. Recently, the business sponsored a transgender and gender fluid fashion show at Water Tower Place.

And while many of its customers experienced being judged by society for being different, they reported feeling welcomed, accepted, and valued at the Alley Chicago.

Over the course of its history, the business has employed 3,000 people in good jobs where they learned essential skills like how to manage the store, make purchasing decisions, and evaluate inventory. Encouraging entrepreneurship has always been an important goal of the owner, Mark Thomas.

Indeed, seeing about three hundred employees return to the business unexpectedly during a store closing in 2016 and learning many of them had started their own businesses is a development that Thomas considers to be one of his greatest achievements.

Currently, the business has a staff of ten people due to a major part of its business shifting to online sales.

In addition to serving as an attractive neighborhood destination, the business supports the artist community by providing approximately one hundred and twenty loft studio work spaces via its sister business, the Art Colony.

The Alley Chicago is currently open and following all of the COVID-19 protocols including mask-wearing, social distancing, and providing hand sanitizer.

North Branch Works members and supporters can help the Alley Chicago by visiting regularly. You can also pick up the latest merchandise from its online store.

Please follow the business on Twitter and Facebook.

We’re excited to work with the Alley Chicago and businesses in the thriving Belmont Avenue/Rockwell Street district to ensure the area remains a great place to work and do business.

North Branch Works is pleased to welcome the business as a new member. With questions and to connect with the Alley Chicago, please reach out to Mark Thomas, mark@thealley.com

Celebrating Women’s History Month with KOVAL Distillery

Following successful academic careers, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart and her husband, Dr. Robert Birnecker, decided to bring the distilling traditions of Robert’s Austrian family to the U.S., taking them on a journey that resulted in the founding of KOVAL Distillery in 2008.

Today, KOVAL Distillery produces organic whiskey, liquors, and specialty spirits from scratch. The company partners with local organic farmers who grow and send grains to KOVAL which manufactures its products on-site in Ravenswood (4241 N. Ravenswood Avenue). KOVAL also recently moved its store within the distillery at this location.

It’s a great example of how manufacturing has shifted from large companies to smaller neighborhood artisanal businesses that provide high-quality jobs without requiring advanced degrees.

KOVAL only uses the “heart cut” of the distillate, making its products stand out due to their clean taste; they’re also organic and kosher. For example, the company uses 100% Midwestern grown organic rye to make its rye whiskey whereas other brands only use the minimum 51% rye blend.

Take a look inside KOVAL by watching this video, From Grain to Bottle.

Some of the places where you can find KOVAL products include: Whole Foods, Target, Binny’s, Beer Temple, Cellar Door Provisions, and many neighborhood liquor stores.

At the time of its founding, KOVAL Distillery faced many challenges including high start-up costs for equipment such as copper stills and 30-gallon drums, securing affordable real estate that could accommodate its needs, and outdated laws governing distilleries. These laws prevented the business from setting up a tasting room, selling retail on-site, and hosting tours.

Fortunately, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart (pictured above right) has always been a strong policy advocate.

Shortly after launching KOVAL, she organized meetings with her alderman and Members of the Illinois General Assembly, resulting in the creation of a Craft Distiller’s license in the State of Illinois. Her persistent advocacy elevated the craft distilling industry in Illinois and made it possible for distilleries to compete fairly with wineries and breweries.

Another way that KOVAL overcame high startup costs was by responding to strong community interest in distilling.  After word spread about the company, KOVAL received numerous calls from people wanting to know more about the business, the type of equipment that distilling requires, and general tips for distilling.

Because KOVAL was already the manufacturers’ representative of equipment firms in Germany and other parts of Europe, the company decided to offer workshops and consulting services to the public.

Remarkably, KOVAL has helped start 200 distilleries in Canada and the U.S. and educated over 3500 people about spirits.

North Branch Works members and supporters can help KOVAL by purchasing its products, which are available online, and suggesting that venues carry them if they don’t already.

And please visit KOVAL’s bar and patio when it opens after the pandemic winds down. Stay tuned for an opening announcement.

We’re proud to count KOVAL Distillery as a member and especially grateful to Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart for her service on North Branch Works’ Board of Directors.

To connect with KOVAL Distillery, please reach out to: info@koval-distillery.com.

Image credits: KOVAL Distillery

Essanay Studio & Lighting celebrates 25 years on Goose Island

A fixture on Chicago’s Goose Island, Essanay Studio and Lighting helps clients shoot dynamic commercials, TV shows, and movies by supplying world-class studios and equipment.

Founded in 1919, the business occupied several locations in Chicago, including the famous Essanay Film Manufacturing Company stage, before moving to Goose Island in 1996.

Today, Essanay Studio and Lighting rents sound studios and equipment for stage shoots as well as location production such as lights, stands, camera dollies, grip trucks and generators to various production companies.

Some of the company’s high-profile clients include McDonald’s, Apple, General Motors, State Farm and Winnebago. Essanay also provided the equipment and behind-the-scenes expertise for the Showtime hit series, Shameless, and Meet the Maddons, a promotional Winnebago ad series featuring former Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

The company’s Goose Island facility (1346 N North Branch) is a great example of adaptive reuse; Essanay converted a former food production company building and additional new construction into a space featuring two sound stages, dressing rooms, production areas and an equipment storage building.

One of the best parts of Essanay’s work is the variety that comes with each job. Every client has different equipment and preparation needs. For example, commercials may require one-to-two weeks to identify props and a shooting location whereas movies can, in general, take three-to-four weeks to do similar preparation before filming.

Along with making major contributions to Chicago as a business and employer, one of Essanay’s partners, Wayne Kubacki–who recently retired–was a founding member of The Illinois Production Alliance (IPA). The IPA was specifically formed with the goal of fighting for policies that made Illinois an attractive place to do filmmaking.

The IPA’s advocacy resulted in the passage of the Illinois Film Tax Credit, an incredible win because production companies often locate their productions wherever they can take advantage of the best tax credits.

Essanay moved to Goose Island due to its central location in Chicago and the property being located in a Planned Manufacturing District, knowing that it would be surrounded by compatible land uses and ensuring that Essanay could deliver to its clients spaces that can be used as intended. This includes recording sound for motion pictures; Essanay’s success depends on its ability to provide these spaces without nearby conflicting land uses.

North Branch Works is proud to have Essanay Studio & Lighting as a member and congratulate the business on its twenty-fifth-year anniversary on Goose Island.

To connect with Essanay Studio & Lighting, please reach out to: info@essanay.com

Image credits: Essanay Studio & Lighting Company

Register for North Branch Works’ Fall Fundraiser

Looking for a fun and socially-distanced way to support family-sustaining jobs and local businesses? Then please join us for our Fall Fundraiser on Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Supporting our work is a great way to help businesses and nonprofits get started, grow, and thrive. Our entertaining one-hour program will feature incredible local businesses such as:

  • Metropolitan Brewing, a woman-owned business that specializes in brewing German style lagers and is located at Rockwell on the River.
  • mHub Chicago, a hardtech and manufacturing innovation center that helps entrepreneurs launch new businesses by taking physical products from concept to prototype to production.
  • Guild Row, a membership-based social club in Avondale for the artisanally curious.

Along the way, you’ll hear from our friends at the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council about our partnership to grow and strengthen minority businesses in our service area.

The program also includes an expert drink-making demonstration from KOVAL Distillery. And we expect to add a few mystery guests to the lineup shortly.

Our Fall Fundraiser will be an evening of fun and entertainment; we hope you can join us.  Thank you for supporting businesses, high-quality jobs, and sustainable economic development in Chicago.

The suggested donation is $50; however, donations in any amount are greatly appreciated. To purchase a ticket, please click here.

With questions, please contact Steve Simmons, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

 

City economic development programs return great value

As the City of Chicago begins to develop its budget for next year, it’s important to keep in mind that economic development programs for neighborhood businesses have never been more valuable.

Because the pandemic and recent social unrest have affected businesses in numerous ways, organizations like North Branch Works require flexibility to meet ever-changing business needs.

Every day, we provide a variety of crucial support services to businesses as a delegate city agency through two programs: the Neighborhood Business Development Center (NBDC), funded by the Chicago Department of Business and Consumer Protection, and the Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI), funded by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

And to give you an idea of our annual impact, we consult with over 108 business through LIRI and over 72 new businesses through NBDC. Our program area includes all or parts of the following city wards: 2, 27, 32, 33, 35, 42, 43, 44, and 47.

Our NBDC services include helping new businesses navigate the city’s licensing process, transition from startups into mature and growing businesses, and access financial resources such as grants and low-interest loans.

Recently, North Branch Works promoted grants available through Chicago’s Together Now Fund and the State of Illinois’ Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program. As a result, one of our member businesses secured a $20k grant to help cover the costs of having to suspend operations during the pandemic.

Our NBDC work also allows us to build strong relationships with businesses and identify candidates for our low-interest small business loan program, which is another resource that can be leveraged for business growth.

And through LIRI, we advocate for and support larger industrial businesses. Retaining industrial jobs is crucial because they pay family-sustaining wages and require middle skills—often only two years beyond high school.

As a central part of LIRI, North Branch Works regularly convenes Infrastructure Task Force meetings to identify and push for business-friendly improvements to the built environment.

Some of our recent wins include the installation of a new stop sign on Goose Island, providing up to date information about the upcoming Division Street Bridge project as well as the update to the Halsted Triangle Plan, and participating in the Lincoln Yards Community Advisory Council.

The LIRI program also allows us to connect businesses directly to valuable city programs such as the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF), TIFWorks, and TIF 50/50. These programs can cover all or some of the costs of building upgrades for your business and training your workforce.

North Branch Works urges Mayor Lightfoot and City Council Members to commit to increasing funding for these essential neighborhood economic development programs in the 2021 budget.

These economic development programs support our vision of a thriving business sector along the North Branch that would bring many benefits to Chicago including family-sustaining jobs, increased revenues to the city, and a strong and healthy consumer base.

If you are a business and would like to explore how our services could benefit you, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

Chicago MBDA Business Center, an incredible resource for minority businesses

During these challenging times, ensuring minority businesses have access to resources to grow and flourish is essential. And we’re fortunate in Chicago to have a wealth of resources available to minority businesses at the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Chicago Business Center, located at 216 W. Jackson Boulevard, Suite 600.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the MBDA Business Center is operated by the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (MSDC), an organization with a successful history of growing and supporting minority business enterprises (MBEs).

The MBDA Business Center connects minority businesses with capital, contracts, and emerging markets. And it supports the minority business community by advocating on its behalf and developing partnerships with local, state, and federal government agencies, major corporations, and banks with the overall goal of creating larger and more strategic minority entrepreneurs.

The MBDA Business Center carries out its mission by providing workshops and consultations across a diverse range of business topics such as financing, bonding assistance, mergers and acquisitions, education and training, networking, advocacy, procurement, and export and international trade assistance.

The MBDA Business Center has achieved great success to date, having assisted over 1200 MBEs obtain $2.5 billion in contracts, $800 million in financing, and create over 5,000 family-sustaining jobs.

If you happen to be a minority business owner, we encourage you to take advantage of the resources available at the MBDA Business Center, which works with businesses of all sizes and can help you connect with major-buying organizations and successfully expand your business.

And if your business is looking for an equity partner, corporate trainings, and information on how to diversify your supply chain—the MBDA Business Center can assist you and would love to discuss partnering with you.

Prior to the pandemic, you could visit the center for appointments and take workshops. Currently, the MBDA Business Center has pivoted to providing its resources and technical support virtually.

And in response to COVID-19, the Chicago MSDC launched a new initiative, the MBDA CARES Act Center; it offers training, education and counseling to help small and minority businesses recover from the pandemic. The CARES Act provides fast and direct economic assistance to American workers, families, and small businesses and preserves jobs in American industries.

North Branch Works is proud to partner with the Chicago MBDA Business Center, MBDA Cares Act Center and Chicago MSDC in our work to grow and support minority businesses in our service area.

To connect with the Chicago MBDA Center, please contact Dave Thomas (pictured right), Operator/Project Director, 312-755-2563, dthomas@chicagombdacenter.com

For more information about the MBDA Cares Act Center, please contact:
Reuben Hamilton, MBDA Cares Act Coordinator, 773-554-9338, rhamilton@chicagombdacenter.com and
Lenora Harris, MBDA Cares Act Program Assistant, 773-530-9076, lharris@chicagombdacenter.com

Image credits: Chicago MBDA Business Center

Rockwell on the River, an incredible destination along Chicago River

Summer is not over yet; you can have plenty of socially-distant fun on the cobblestone streets at Rockwell on the River, a dynamic craft food and events space in Avondale along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Located at 3057 N. Rockwell St. in between Elston and Belmont Avenues, the company began seven years ago when developer Paul Levy repurposed industrial buildings from what had been a tannery.

Reflecting his vision of an artisanal food space like no other in the city, the complex has a diverse and growing mix of local and family-owned small businesses including Metropolitan Brewing’s taproom and brewery, Metropolis Coffee, and Judson and Moore Distillery.

The company’s long-term goal is to be known as a destination for the best food Chicago has to offer and an asset to the Avondale neighborhood.

And Rockwell on the River expects to add several new food-based businesses to its lineup soon. If you happen to be in the food industry, the complex offers customized kitchen spaces available for rent and often hosts pop-up cafes.

Currently, Catered by Design offers a pop up café on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. And please take advantage of the company’s two-for-one sandwich deal, using this QVR code.

After stopping by food vendors, you can take in the scenic Chicago River and see nature up close by renting kayaks from Wateriders Kayak Rentals and boats from Chicago Electric Boats—both companies operate from the complex’s dock behind the buildings.

And eventually the plan is to add a Chicago Water Taxi stop operated by Wendella to the Rockwell dock.

Because this stretch of the Chicago River is used primarily for recreation, it’s a great place to escape from the grid and enjoy the natural world, including blue herons, which were spotted in the area recently.

And if you visit, you can rest assured knowing all the businesses at Rockwell on the River follow strict COVID-19 protocols, including requiring social distancing and face masks, and cleaning surfaces regularly.

Along with providing space for food businesses to succeed, Rockwell on the River has a breathtaking 20,000 sq. foot event space overlooking the river (see below right) that can be rented for weddings, corporate gatherings, and galas.

The grounds also feature beautiful offices that can accommodate firms of all sizes. Available offices range in space from hundreds to thousands of square feet.

North Branch Works is proud to welcome Rockwell on the River as our newest member. We’re grateful our members on Rockwell Street can safely operate and excited about partnering with them to strengthen existing businesses, attract new ones, and bring family-sustaining jobs to the neighborhood.

If you’d like to rent space or connect with Rockwell on the River, please contact Jeff DeLong, Director of Marketing & Programming, 312-498-6382, jdelong@bridgeportart.com

Image credits: Rockwell on the River

Join Wendella Boats for tours & events

Update: February 23, 2021:  Wendella Boats’ 2021 season will start between March 12-19 depending upon conditions in the Chicago River. For any business, property owner, or organization looking to host a private event aboard a Wendella vessel, please contact: aws@wendellaboats.com

Because of COVID-19, the long-term viability of Chicago’s small businesses in the events and entertainment field like Wendella Boats depends upon the support of local residents and businesses.

A family-owned, multi-generational small business, Wendella Boats offers breath-taking architecture boat tours, hosts corporate events, and operates the popular water taxis which safely transport people to multiple destinations along the Chicago River.

Founded in 1935 by a Swedish immigrant who bravely purchased the company’s first boat during the Great Depression, Wendella Boats played a big role in helping Chicago and the country through major events such as CTA worker strikes, World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and 9-11.

Prior to the pandemic, Wendella Boats employed over three-hundred people and kept them in jobs year-round by having them repair boats during the winter months.

And these are good jobs that pay competitive wages without requiring much education or experience beyond high school.  As an employee benefit and workforce development strategy, the company provides scholarships to help employees obtain their Coast Guard credentials.

Now, because revenues have fallen 90%, the company has been forced to reduce its workforce to one-hundred and furlough 60% of its staff. Wendella Boats also recently made the difficult decision to suspend water taxi service. Just last year, water taxis transported 415,000 people to and from various riverfront destinations.

With tourism and hotel occupancy in the central business district down sharply, the company is counting on Chicago residents and local companies to take architecture tours and book events.

The good news is Wendella Boats provides the safest and socially-distant entertainment available. It’s a great way to see Chicago’s awe-inspiring architecture up close, learn more about the city, and relax and unwind.

The company’s ninety-five-foot steel tour boats feature an open air upper deck (pictured above) and plenty of space to comfortably social distance. And you can rest assured knowing the company follows all the COVID-19 protocols, including cleaning the boats vigorously after each trip, taking temperatures of its staff, requiring face masks, and enforcing social distancing.

Because of these measures, only one-hundred people are allowed on the boat per outing. And while following these guidelines is a must for public safety, it also means the company is down one-third of its revenue even if it sells out the boat.

Despite these challenging times, Wendella Boats continues to show its incredible commitment to the city. A portion of the proceeds from its bar service is donated every week to local nonprofits.

North Branch Works is proud to count Wendella Boats among our members and grateful it can safely host tours. We highly recommend hopping on an architecture boat tour, booking an event, and referring family, friends, and colleagues.

Any support you can provide is greatly appreciated. You can purchase tickets for an architecture tour by stopping by Wendella’s dock (see below) at 400 N. Michigan or going here.

Guild Row poised for successful opening

In North Branch Works’ last newsletter, we talked about the challenges of pivoting in a pandemic. This month, let’s consider a different and equally daunting challenge: opening a new business in one.

Located on Rockwell just between Belmont and the Rockwell on the River//Metropolitan Brewing complex, Guild Row is a unique social enterprise founded by local residents Elyse Agnello (also the architect of the multi-building campus), Jim Lasko (civic artist and former Executive Director of Redmoon Theater) and Mike Healy (an award winning urbanist and neighborhood development professional).

These three partners began meeting around Lasko’s kitchen table on Tuesday nights back in 2015. Through many hours of conversation, one truth kept emerging: society and social media had “optimized” connections between people to such an extent as to make them almost meaningless. Similarly, the profligacy of smartphone functionality was becoming such that one could scarcely turn on a light or flush a toilet without the abstract disintermediation of a smartphone screen tuned to the right app.

This was a grain worth cutting against, Agnello, Lasko, and Healy decided.  They set out to build a neighborhood-scale social club predicated on people making real-world connections, around physical things.  Craft and artisanal booms had been the single greatest trend in consumer goods in the prior decade. Why not give people the chance to get their hands dirty trying their own talents and energy at homebrewing, at woodwork, at leathercraft, at bread baking? Why not give people the commodious environs in which to let neighbor-to-neighbor relationships flourish, especially after having gotten their hands dirty together?

The three pitched their concept to close-to-the-ground investors. They scoured Chicago for the right venue: the type of legacy manufacturing structures that had powered the city for generations, and had also formented long-lasting and meaningful relationships between the people who worked within. In late 2016, they connected with Hu-Friedy Mfg. Co., entering into  contract to buy the dental manufacturer’s original home buildings on Rockwell St. just along the Chicago River.

The transfer of ownership was completed in early 2017. Financing was secured in 2018, and Guild Row was born.

A “social club for the artisanally curious,” Guild Row now boasts fixed learning, crafting and programming infrastructure: a teaching kitchen (“The Cooking Lab”), a wood/craft shop, dynamic programming space in which a bevy of Chicago artisans will teach their crafts to Guild Row’s members. Married to these hands-on spaces are the most time-tested of community commons: Guild Hall, a members lounge featuring cafe fare by day and libationary offerings by night; The Rockwell Garden, a marvelous outdoor space replete with fire pit, live flame grills, generous arborture and the like; The Belmont and Avondale Rooms, dynamic spaces for intimate gatherings, programming and more.

The membership community of Guild Row is already starting to flourish, with nearly 200 members as of this writing. Those interested in learning more can avail themselves of one of the club’s regular tours, offered on Fridays at 4 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m.  To register for a tour, please visit app.guildrow.co.


This is a guest blog authored by Mike Healy, co-founder of Guild Row. Mike and his colleagues are invaluable members of NBW and the thriving Rockwell St./Belmont Ave. business community.