Doing Business, Chicago Style

Chicago, being the city of Al Capone & the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, has some of the most stringent liquor licensing requirements in the country, and probably the world, for that matter. In the twelve years that I’ve been in Chicago, the city has gotten better and better at helping business owners navigate the regulatory waters.

When I’ve told people that we are seeking a new liquor license (not purchasing a pre-existing one,) many people would ask “oh, that’s really hard to get, isn’t it?” To which my stock reply was “for a tavern, or packaged goods license in most neighborhoods, yes, very difficult, but we are opening a restaurant, and there are thousands of licensed businesses in Chicago, so you can be sure it’s not impossible.” So without any doubts, we set out to go through the process.

Since we’re applying for an Incidental Activity-Consumption on Premises license, which is what most restaurants have, the process is much, much easier than it would be if we were trying to open a new bar or package goods store. That’s not to say it’s easy. I do have to say that up until now, my experiences with City of Chicago professionals in every department have been great.

You hear a lot of stories about rude or indifferent City receptionists, officers, or managers. Maybe some people forget that City employees may be on the public payroll, but they are people too. Few people recognize the scope of responsibility that falls into the hands of a few people in zoning downtown, and the complicated layers of zoning law are there for good reasons, so you don’t (hopefully) have a loud tavern or even a power plant next door to your home or your child’s school.

I did spend 15 hours last week in City Hall working on the liquor license, which is a lot of time, and a lot of restauranteurs hire other people to wait out the lines, cross the t’s and dot the i’s, but we want to represent ourselves, and it’s a great experience seeing how the process works firsthand. When you can see Chicago work this way, it’s easy to understand why Chicago’s neighborhoods are so liveable.

We lived in Andersonville for ten years, and know first hand that it has the most active and visible Chamber of Commerce in the entire city and vigilant neighborhood groups, so we are thrilled to serve this neighborhood and participate in its unique and vibrant streetscape. The best part of the licensing process has been meeting the people in the neighborhood, talking about our business, and hearing your ideas.

The bottom line: When you come to my place, you are going to enjoy some seriously delicious food, and if you would like, we’ll fix you a delicious drink. That’s why we go through the process. It’s about hospitality.

– Paul