The J. Parker has the best view in the city. What has taken so long to open a rooftop bar at this location?
Kevin Boehm: Long story short we came in [to Hotel Lincoln] over four years ago when we opened up Perennial Virant. We were always supposed to open something up here on the rooftop but the guys that opened [the hotel] were hauled away and went to prison for 15 years so the government took over the building. So we had Perennial in an abandoned hotel. Finally somebody great bought it and here we are. When they bought it we came to an agreement and partnered with them on both the J. Parker and the coffee shop downstairs, Elaine’s Coffee Call.
John Parker was one of Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguards. Are there any other historic references we might not know about?
Kevin: This is a historic hotel in respect that John Belushi and Dan Akroyd used to live here. It was a transient hotel. It’s right by The Second City. David Mamet, who is one of the most famous playwrights in the world, wrote “Glengarry Glen Ross” when he lived here and “American Buffalo.” The coffee shop downstairs is named after the switchboard operator who used to bring David Mamet coffee and tea when he was up late at night writing.
How did the two of you meet?
Kevin: We’ve answered this question several times and we have three different versions to this story.
Rob Katz: It used to be eHarmony.
Kevin: Rob, give her the A version. Give her the good one.
Rob: Okay. We’ll give you the real version. Kevin’s childhood best friend’s wife worked for my good buddy. When Kevin wanted to leave the market he was in and come to Chicago I was looking to steer out of the nightclub business so it was a connection made by our two very dear friends.
Was there a defining moment when you knew this was going to be a successful partnership?
Rob: No. I still haven’t found that moment in 11 years.
Kevin: We’re waiting for that moment. Are we having this moment today? We’re having it right now! This is the moment. Thank you.
Rob: You know, we hit it off right from the get-go. I think after the first meeting we knew this could be something special.
Were there any hesitations in the beginning having just met one another?
Kevin: I think in any type of contractual partnership, whether it’s a business relationship or marriage, you enter with a bit a trepidation but it seemed like we both thought the same way. We had similar skill sets but also had different skill sets so we were pretty optimistic from the beginning.
Do you ever get sick of each other?
Rob: We spend more time with each other than with our own families. You have to choose your partners carefully and make sure you’re compatible and have similar goals and visions and that you get along but I also think it’s important to be friends with who you are working with.
Kevin: Our only fights are fantasy football related.
Rob: Sports related. We will keep it at that.
Are you big Chicago sports fans?
Rob: Huge. I’m a big Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears guy. Growing up in Canada baseball just was lower on the list, although I do live on the North side so my allegiance is to the Cubs.
Kevin: Cubs followed by Bears. I like all four a lot, just to clarify. I would have the Bears and the Bulls probably tied. The Cubs have been a big part of my entire life. There’s a big dark empty spot inside of my heart for the Cubs. I’m hoping it gets filled by a World Series championship sometime.
What made you want to base your restaurants in Chicago?
Kevin: It is the greatest city in the United States, period. End of story.
How important was it to align your concepts with such high-profile chefs?
Kevin: That was the whole idea behind the restaurant group. That was the architecture Rob and I decided years ago that we wanted. We are a chef-driven restaurant group and the only way for us to grow in a way we were comfortable with was to have a culinary identity for every single place that we opened.
Has there been any advice that has always stuck with you?
Kevin: Ready, fire, aim? You know what, you gotta work hard. There are a lot of people who see things on TV, they see a chef come out on a big TV show and it all looks glamorous but there has to be an understanding that you’re going to have to put in the work up front. Anyone who has gotten to a successful point has had to pay their dues.
Rob: There are no short cuts. Unless you’re just catching lightning in a bottle. You know how many people contact Kevin and me saying, “Hey, I want to open a restaurant,” with no experience? We have meetings all of the time with people and we’re like, “Look, you have to really know what you’re doing.” You can’t open a restaurant at 45-years-old and stop whatever your career is. It’s just very difficult and I think we are lucky that we’ve been cutting our teeth in this industry for so long and yet we’re still learning.
Is there anything fun you’ve splurged on and rewarded yourself with along the way?
Rob: Kevin and I have been doing this for two decades each, combined we have 40 years of experience. I guess we like to say we’re an overnight success 20 years in the making but the reality is we’ve been doing this for so long. So it’s sort of steady as she goes, it wasn’t like a light switch went on and we could buy ourselves something we didn’t have before and I mean that humbly and modestly. I’m not trying to say we are swimming in wealth, I’m just saying nothing happened recently that changed the way we live.
Kevin: Four beautiful children! That’s what we went out and got.
How do your wives handle your busy schedules?
Rob: It’s different for each of us, I’m sure. I’ve been with my wife for 21 years, we’ve lived together for 21 years. She has been with me from the get-go so she knew exactly what she was getting into. I will also say this, there were maybe 15 straight years where I don’t think either one of us would take a weekend off unless it was a planned vacation. You just didn’t do it. Weddings and things like that, they just didn’t happen in our world. Even though our families got used to that I think nowadays our lives have changed, they’ve kind of teeter-tottered to where more of our life is spent in the office running the architecture and the building blocks of this company. We are still present and visible at night just not to the extent it used to be. It used to be about us, now it’s not. Now it’s about the whole company. It’s about the chefs, the managers and thank God or else we would not be where we are right now if it were dependent on Kevin and I being visible at night.
Kevin: I think that nowadays we strive to find some sort of consistency. Obviously when there is an opening all bets are off but there are certain things we both do. Neither one of us works on Sundays. We go into the office a lot earlier than we did before and we don’t work as late.
What was the first date you took your wife on?
Rob: Putt-putt golf. We were at the Diversey Driving Range. It’s crazy I remember that. She’s going to be very happy I remembered that.
Kevin: It was at a hole-in-the-wall bar with my wife in Nashville.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Kevin: I’m a big Beatles fan so if I could get Paul McCartney and John Lennon that would be really great.
Rob: There might be some tension in that.
Kevin: I think I’d like that. It wouldn’t be small talk, I’ll tell you that! Get those two in a room together and let’s work it out. I want to get the Beatles back together again. We’ll tell John that Yoko [Ono] can come but we’ll keep her downstairs.
Rob: I think Bill Clinton would be a ball to have a drink with. I think he would be a pretty wild cat. He’s very smart and controversial but from everything I’ve seen in all of the years I’ve watched him he’s just a charismatic cat. I think that would be a fun cocktail.
Photography by Neal Agustin
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