Our drink looks great.
Rockit Burger Bar bartender:
This one is Rittenhouse Rye whiskey with a little bit of pineapple juice, egg whites, simple syrup and angostura and orange bitters. It’s tasty and has a nice mellow citrus finish to it.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu here?
The truffle mushroom burger is amazing.
You graduated with a biology degree from the University of Michigan. So why restaurants?
When I was at Michigan I enrolled in dental school. I thought that’s what I wanted to do but I got cold feet in the 11th hour. My sister was living here in Chicago so I came out but I didn’t have a job. I thought that I wanted to do some type of international business because I’m bilingual but nobody would give me a shot or even look at my resume because it was very biology heavy. I had nothing on there that would indicate I was ready to step into a business job. That year I needed a job and I started working at a small bar on Clark called Frank’s. I started getting to know people in the industry and was able to start going out more because I was making some money. At first I was literally on lockdown because I had $0.
How did you meet your business partner Billy Dec?
I met Billy just through going out. I got his card one night and found out that he was opening up a nightclub called the Dragon Room so I called him up and asked him if he needed anybody. He asked me if I spoke Spanish and I told him I could. He then said, “Why don’t you come down because my bartenders are having a hell of a time communicating with my barbacks,” so I went down to meet him and they hired me on the spot. About two months after we opened they fired the general manager and made me the GM. From that point in time with all of the new found responsibility I fell in love with what the hospitality industry was. I called my parents and told them I was not going back to dental school and they freaked out. But here I am 15 years later.
Why do you think you, Billy and Brad Young work so well together?
We are very much alike but very different. We’re type A personalities. We all bring a little bit of a different element to the table. We really love making people happy and we really love seeing people experience our products. Billy, Brad and I grew up in totally different worlds, light years apart but as business partners we compliment each other. Billy is very marketing minded and he’s always been that way. Brad has the knowledge and ability for fundraising and bringing investors to the table for projects. I’m more of a control freak. I like the operations and the management of all of the day-to-day things that happen in the company.
Are there plans to expand to other cities?
There’s always talk about opportunities and I think we’re starting to look at that a lot more. I’m personally here in Chicago for good. I had an opportunity to move to Vegas awhile ago when we were going to do a project in Vegas but fortunately we didn’t do that project because I would have probably had to move there. Chicago is just home. There is really no place like it.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I live on Division in Wicker Park, right across from Bangers & Lace. I’ve been living in the neighborhood for 14 years. I moved there when it was sketchy as hell. I mean, it was like a lawless land. It’s a different neighborhood today than it was 14 years ago but it still has an edge to it and it still has a very identifiable characteristic. I love it because it’s colorful, it’s just my vibe.
Are you in a relationship?
I am. Yes. The answer is yes.
Do you want to have kids one day?
I feel very comfortable in my skin right now. I don’t feel pressured in any direction so I’m a very firm believer in doing things when the time is right. So, enough said about that.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
I get a thrill out of sitting at home and diving into magazines like Bon Appétit, Food & Wine or any design magazine. I love doing that. I love working out and I love cooking. It’s funny, what I do a lot of times when I’m not working is find things to do when I’m at work so it’s more work! It’s done in a different way though. It’s odd that I tend to gravitate towards that even in my time off but when you love something it’s never work.
Favorite restaurants besides your own?
I like Piccolo Sogno and 694 Wine & Spirits on Milwaukee Avenue. I’m a huge wine guy.
Favorite Chicago sports team?
I’d have to say the Bears. I’m more of a college sports guy, I’m a huge college football fan.
You’re always seen with your signature glasses, how many pairs do you have?
I only have two pairs! One is just in case this pair breaks, just to kind of hold me over. These are from a place on Division street called D/Vision.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Still in Chicago opening up many more concepts and having a boutique hotel.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Robin Williams. I love his energy. He’s such a brilliant actor. He did a play in New York and I went to go see it and actually met him. He’s just such a vibrant, loose cannon type of personality and he’s made me laugh a million times over.
Photography by Neal Agustin
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