Grid’s favorite stories of 2013

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Since Grid launched in February, we’ve written about lewd and lascivious card games, the perilous food truck business, fried chicken, comedy, and a truly incredible amount of beer. Here are 10 favorites from 2013:

Is 312 still a Chicago beer?

When Sun-Times Managing Editor Craig Newman heard this title, his immediate and unequivocal response was “No.” And while 71 percent of Grid readers voted with him, the issue is a little more complicated than that. While 312 is no longer brewed in the city, nor is it owned by a Chicago company, its identity is enmeshed with Chicago in a way that’s pretty unbreakable — both for Goose Island and for a lot of drinkers.

Why Harold’s Chicken is trying to drop the shack

Harold’s Chicken Shacks are South Side staple. But under new ownership (the daughter of the restaurant’s namesake), the fried chicken chain is trying to make its reputation a little less greasy. That means ditching homemade signage, making sure all locations are using the same recipes, and otherwise taking control of “rogue” franchise locations. Our only unanswered question is whether you’ll still be able to get pizza at that Hyde Park location.

Eight nerds get rich off a game where Oprah sobs into a Lean Cuisine

This Christmas, just about everyone we know got a set of Cards Against Humanity under the tree. But months ago, people were dishing out 100 bucks on the secondary market to get their hands the card game we now think of as Apples to Apples’ raunchy sibling — largely because the small operation couldn’t keep up. The eight founders from Highland Park did it all with no business know-how, no employees and no investors. And now they’re making millions.

The curse of the open office

Once upon a time, people realized that companies can save a lot of money by taking private offices away and shoving them all into big open rooms with no walls. Words like “egalitarianism” were thrown around, and then some other words, too, like “distracting,” “uncomfortable” and “awful.” Turns out, the whole openness concept can be a giant transparent mess without some extra consideration.

What Division Street’s ‘instant landmark’ apartment tower means for Wicker Park

A new tower rising from what once was called “Wicker Park’s dirty doorstep” could mean a lot of things for the neighborhood. For one, a lot more single youngsters. But also, the gleaming black-and-silver tower at 1611 W. Division could mean the beginning of a more transit-friendly, development-ripe future at East Village’s Polonia Triangle.

How Nike scored exclusive rights to Jabari Parker’s feet

South Side native Jabari Parker has been lighting up college basketball in his freshman season at Duke University, averaging 22 points a game. Before that, he led Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy to four straight state titles. He also got his first taste of corporate sponsorship, thanks to Simeon’s exclusive four-year deal with Nike. That contract turned out to be worth millions in media exposure for Nike; Simeon got shoes. We got our hands on that contract, broke down its terms and looked at the unregulated ways corporations get their hooks into inner-city athletes.

Why food trucks are bad business

Amidthe frothy predictions of a burgeoning food truck scene, we started to wonder why in the world anyone would want to get into an outdoor business in a town that has eight months of winter. After talking to all kinds of owners, it turns out the weather’s the least of the problems. Lousy margins, red tape, and price pressures are doing a lot of food trucks in. Meanwhile, those who are surviving harbor cheery sentiments like, “Don’t quit your day job.”

How Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy learned to grow up and start firing his friends

As lead singer and songwriter for indie-rock band Wilco, Jeff Tweedy has become an icon of Chicago music, known for making innovative but catchy pop songs that have won him legions of fans and broad critical approval. But Tweedy’s ingenuity extends far beyond the recording studio. He’s also a musical entrepreneur who’s made Wilco a financial success even as the music industry was crumbling around him. Tweedy talked with Grid about getting creative in business, and about what it means to sell out.

Why iO founder Charna Halpern is gambling $7 million on comedy in Chicago

We heard all kinds of stories about brash business plans, but Halpern’s is right at the top. The improv community’s matriarch is blowing everything up. In order to make her fancy new Near North Side theater work, she’s going to have to double the number of students, the number of audience members and the amount of booze everyone consumes. Plus she’s doing it alone, forgoing partnerships in favor of having full control over the multimillion-dollar project.

Is Pedialyte’s big new market just a bunch of drunks?

When an infant diarrhea drink flies off the shelves, the last thing you might think is that it’s become a hangover staple for college kids (or people who drink like they are). But that seems to be the case for electrolyte-packed Pedialyte. Though the company is keeping the product’s new reputation at arm’s length, they may have drunks to thank for a bump in sales.

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