Kapos: Bill Jacobs on the peace at Piece
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Researchers at McKinsey and Co., the global consulting firm, say higher wages aren’t the answer to keeping employees happy.
Bill Jacobs, the founder and CEO of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, could have told them that.
“It’s about treating people with dignity and respect” and a “great environment,” says the Chicago entrepreneur. Jacobs is an easy-going, Frisbee-playing, Cubs-loving, dog doter who’s also passionate about running a good business.
He just put out his own bit of data on employee retention. It’s a video showcasing how long some of his 130 staffers have worked at the company. There have been lots of 10-year anniversaries and at least six have worked for Jacobs since 2001. “In this business, we’re an anomaly,” he concedes.
Jacobs uses “team,” “compassion” and “empowerment” when he talks business. And btw, employees get free yoga at Zen Yoga Garage on Milwaukee Avenue.
The Chicago restaurateur grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, one of four brothers. Their dad is a lawyer and mom was a nurse before helping manage the law office. Jacobs was a teenager when he decided to make a career in the food industry.
Jacobs, inspired by the food at Sally’s Apizza in New Haven, recalls once nearly setting his family’s kitchen on fire.
At Boston University, where he studied history, Jacobs discovered great bagels in nearby Brookline and a business idea was born.
When brother Andy visited Chicago with a friend, Tony Weisman, and saw how the city was “bereft of bagels,” they decided to set up shop.
Jacobs Bros. Bagels opened in 1983, and brother Pete joined a year later. The fourth brother lives in New Haven.
The bagel store grew to 20 shops, and in 1999, the brothers sold it. Three years later, Bill Jacobs opened Piece, which pays homage to the pie of his youth (thin crust, fresh ingredients) and serves award-winning beer.
It’s become a Wicker Park — and Chicago — staple, as has Jacobs.
Weisman, now the North American CEO of DigitasLBi, calls his friend “perpetually upbeat and optimistic. He makes people feel good and welcome. It’s in his core.”
Jacobs’ passions go beyond food. He loves the Bears, Bulls, Hawks, yoga, running and cycling. He also helped build the Ultimate Chicago Frisbee league.
And of course, there’s, Liza, an Airedale Terrier with an easy-going temperament that matches her master. They are daily visitors to Wiggly Field, the dog park at Lincoln Park’s Noethling Playlot.
“It’s a gathering place for people and dogs, a place to escape from the usual,” he says during a recent visit.
You can find him there most every morning. As an unofficial caretaker, he makes sure there are plenty of doggie bags. And when pet owners don’t pick up after their pooches, Jacobs says, “I call them out to pick it up.” Always with respect.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg taking the stage for Chicago nonprofit
Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be in Chicago in a few weeks to present an award to Chicago philanthropist Joan Harris at the annual gala for Cedille Records, the nonprofit classical music label.
No, the U.S. Supreme Court justice won’t be talking politics, says her son, Jim Ginsburg, who founded the record company. “She’s just presenting,” he said, chuckling in reference to the brouhaha his mom created by giving her two cents about a certain Republican presidential candidate.
The younger Ginsburg spoke from the North Side offices of Cedille (pronounced say-dee). He had just returned from a long vacation with his mom. They saw five operas in five days in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and four operas in three nights at the Glimmerglass opera festival in New York.
Jim Ginsburg was a collector of classical music and a student at University of Chicago law school when he founded Cedille in 1989. He later made it a nonprofit that today has about a $1.2 million operating budget. It’s focus: recording classical music of Chicago-area performers.
“My parents were always music lovers, and my mom used to take me to concerts when I was young,” he says, ticking off the many visits to see New York Philharmonic, New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera.
Music has remained a part of his personal life. His wife is soprano Patrice Michaels. They live in Chicago in the shadow of the Andersonville business district and are a Brady Bunch family — each with two children from previous marriages.
Ginsburg’s late father, tax attorney Martin Ginsburg, was a fundraiser for Cedille until his death six years ago. The organization has since beefed up its board and added the gala in honor of him.
Prices for the event Sept. 11 at Spertus Institute range from $125 to $6,000.
Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.