Omi

You lost 50 pounds following a high protein-diet prior to opening Protein Bar. When did this all begin?

I moved here in 2005 and I was selling cheese. Literally, I was a brand manager for Kraft Cheese. I knew that there was no place that served the kind of food that I wanted to eat so I liquidated all of my life savings, got some loans from the government and started my first store down by Willis Tower. It was open for about a year and then we added food to the menu and things took off.

How did you develop the menu?

All of the menu items were things that I ate over that last 10 years to keep the weight off. About three months ago we hired a Le Cordon Bleu chef who has a background in nutrition to really take things from good to great. Obviously a lot of people think we are great already but I personally think we have a real opportunity to experiment with super foods that people are just now starting to learn about. Ingredients like quinoa, agave nectar and acai were our foundation. There is a whole universe of things that are being sold out there and I think we have a chance to introduce them to the mainstream.

We are addicted to your buffalo sauce.

It’s a vegan buffalo sauce. Most buffalo sauces, like when you go to the bar and order buffalo wings, are made with heavy butter but we don’t use any dairy. It’s super low in calories.

Describe the feeling you had the day your first store opened.

It was the best day of my life. Actually, the day that was more amazing for me was the day before when we had our practice run. The funniest part was I had all of these recipes ready to go with menu boards printed and I had hired all these employees and then they started tasting the recipes and were like, “These are disgusting,” because they were all just mine and what I thought was good. So literally the day we opened we ripped down the menu boards and printed up new ones and that whole week before we opened we did things to make them more palatable.

What is the biggest difference in the items you have up now from your original version of the recipes?

I would have had this Wrigley Peeled without the agave nectar just to try and keep the calories down a little bit or I had one without a banana or I would make my shakes with water instead of almond milk, all of these little things that I did just for me. I realized first and foremost that they have to taste good and then once you clear that hurdle it has to be nutritionally relevant.

Was the interior design all your idea as well?

Yeah. I knew I wanted to create something modeled after a hotel bar. Think about going into the W or the James, you just sort of feel sophisticated, you feel sexy. You may not like the music they are playing or you may not be into lounges but you feel good about yourself. That’s what I told my interior designers that I wanted. I gathered pictures of all these cool bars from all over the country that I really liked. The Liberty Hotel in Boston is probably the one I modeled it most after.

Can you give us an idea of what your average day is like?

People make fun of me for this but I have my calendar that I keep on a piece of paper and every morning when I wake up I look at it and say, “What am I doing today?” I have my meetings this morning and by the end of the day things come up that you really didn’t plan for. Whether it’s a refrigerator breaking or a delivery guy calling off, no day really goes as planned.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur in Chicago?

The people, for sure. When you go to a health club in Chicago people are working out. I’m from L.A. and when you go to one there the people are showing off their tattoos or messing with their hair. In L.A. people are less serious. People here are into their trades.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

My father passed away when I was 11 years old so of course I would like to have a drink with my Dad.

Matt MatrosMatt MatrosPhotography by Natalie Probst

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Omi