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Colm Treacy expands LGBT bar and restaurant empire
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

This article shared 6433 times since Wed Mar 28, 2012
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Back in the late 1990s, while teaching culinary arts and hospitality courses at Kendall College in Chicago, Colm Treacy wanted to practice what he preached.

So, on June 26, 2001, he opened T's Bar & Restaurant along Clark Street in Andersonville.

"After a few years of being open, I realized I could stop worrying if in fact it'd be a success, because it was—and then I decided to do it again," said Treacy, often simply called T—hence the bar's name—since many are confused on the pronunciation of his first name (column).

Next up was The Sofo Tap, which Treacy bought and took over June 26, 2005.

Then came The Glenwood Bar, which Treacy opened in Rogers Park April 14, 2008.

Although Treacy sold Sofo April 18, 2011, he certainly wasn't done expanding his food and beverage reach across the city's North Side, particularly within the LGBT community.

On Feb. 16, Treacy opened Sidecar, a two-minute walk south, door to door, from The Glenwood.

Also, between The Glenwood and Sidecar, Treacy bought the corner property and, in May, is opening Morsel—an American bistro-style restaurant.

"I'm a project person," Treacy said matter of factly, with a smile, "and I'm not done yet."

Watch out, Lakeview, here comes the Treacy train—building Andersonville and Rogers Park into popular areas for the LGBT community.

"I'm doing well," said Treacy, 45, who was born in Ireland and now lives in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood—less than a minute walk away from T's.

"When the economy is bad, people drink. When the economy is good, people drink. My business partners are solid, sound, nice people. We cultivate a very loyal following, a very loyal customer base, especially since they really like the trifecta: the ability to go to T's, Sidecar and The Glenwood all in one night."

T's is about 2,000 square feet, with a staff that is about 75 percent LGBT; also, it has the same percentages of male and female customers, Treacy said.

"When you open [a neighborhood bar], you let the neighborhood dictate what it's going to be, so I wasn't expecting anything," he said. "I think the neighborhood told me what T's was going to be. The clientele is very mixed, particularly welcoming to the lesbian and transgender audience.

"It's a comfortable place, for the gay and straight communities—and that's what I wanted it to be.

"I think people make a mistake sticking exactly to their [pre-opening] business plan, and not, instead, listening to the customers when they tell you what they want the place to be."

Take, for instance, the customer years ago who complained about the pinot grigio served at T's. Treacy listened and asked the customer to come back the next day. Treacy then had three other pinots for the customer to sample. The customer picked his favorite—and that one was ultimately offered for sale at T's.

"It's very important to listen to the customers," Treacy said. "You cannot be arrogant in this industry. You have to list to the customer and the staff, and I'm really blessed to have the staff that I do. A lot of them have been working for me for 10 years."

Treacy employs about 30 people at his four locations, and only five of them are crossover employees—those who work at multiple locations, though Treacy said all could. About 80 percent of his employees are LGBT, but hiring from within the gay community is not his driving force. "What impacts me [about a potential employee] is, are they a good worker, regardless [of their sexual orientation.]"

Treacy and his partner, Tom Hoang—who also happens to be his co-owner at Sidecar—will celebrate their 19th anniversary in July.

Hoang was the mastermind behind T's name and logo. Treacy suggested selecting a name that was short, simple, memorable and easy to repeat.

When Treacy launched Sofo—a 1,200-square-foot location named because its location is just south of Foster Avenue—he admittedly wanted it to be a gay bar.

"[Sofo] was very successful for me," Treacy said. "Ultimately, I got a call one day and was offered me a lot of money," to sell the bar.

"It was a hard decision to make because I was emotionally attached to Sofo, but it was a good business decision."

The Glenwood came to Treacy and Renee Labrana, his business partner at that location, when its former owner offered to sell. They have has since tripled its size with an expansion about two years ago.

"The Glenwood has been a huge anchor to the neighborhood with a real mixed audience. It's been more than I ever expected it to be," Treacy said. "I didn't realize how the neighborhood was going to totally embrace The Glenwood, and they really have. From the [area] alderman to the Rogers Park Business Alliance to so many others. It has lent itself to being a real anchor of the community."

Treacy opened the 1,000-square-foot Sidecar after Neil Lipton, the owner of a bar at that site, died in January. Lipton's wife, Mary Bau, approached Treacy to buy and take over the location.

"She really felt that Renee Labrana and I had done a tremendous job at The Glenwood and would treat this place with great respect, honor her husband, and carry on the tradition of being part of the community," Treacy said.

"I just love this neighborhood, which is very diverse, and I knew I could open a bar that had a completely different style than The Glenwood."

After all, Sidecar is a martini lounge with a predominantly gay crowd, Treacy said.

"Sidecar is an old, classic cocktail. Plus, since the location right [near a train stop], the name seemed logical," Treacy said. "So far, Sidecar already has been more than I expected. I hear nothing but compliments, and the neighborhood has really embraced it."

Treacy will open Morsel in May, and it will be his largest venture: 3,600 square feet with 220 seats. MaryAnn Culleton is Treacy's business partner at Morsel. Culleton and Labrana are married.

"Customers kept telling me that they wanted a place similar to T's in Rogers Park," Treacy said. "Well, since this place is located on Morse and the El stop, and with the natural food tie, morsel, it will be Morsel."

Morsel will be open seven days a week, Treacy said.

Treacy's impact on the community and, in particular, the economy of Andersonville and Rogers Park is profound. Plus, when he goes out for dinner of drinks in the city, he always stays within the two neighborhoods. "I want to give my money back to the community where I live and work; that's very important to me," said Treacy, who tagged Calo Ristorante, Jin Ju and Anteprima among his favorites.

Treacy said the soft economy over the past few years has definitely impacted business, which he's seen first hand through the eyes—and spending habits—of his customers. When they struggle personally or professionally, Treacy relates and understands.

"You become emotionally attached to the customers; that's the hard part of the job. You really caring about them, about their lives, about their families," he said.

Treacy said he's not sure of his next business venture; he's not even sure what industry it will fall in. "I just like projects; I like doing things—and Tom hates that," he said, laughing.

Will there be more bars? Yes, if the opportunity arises, concentrating on the Rogers Park area, Treacy said. He added there could be more eateries, but nothing else is in the works right now.

"My mind is always open to new ideas," said Treacy, who gleaned his entrepreneur ways from his mom, Eileen, who bought, owned and ran a bar in their native Ireland.

"I always knew, from the time I was a kid, that I was going to move to the U.S. and make it, succeed," Treacy said.

His success has certainly spilled into the LGBT community. He said that he annually donates about $60,000 to LGBT causes. For instance, he offers T's and The Glenwood for free to groups of 25 or more—and then he donates 10 percent of that night's sales to the group.

Treacy also sponsors about 10 sports teams through the local gay leagues.

"That's very important to me," Treacy said. "It means a lot to me that others are out there having fun, doing something that they want to do, something that's healthy, energetic, something that takes their mind away from whatever worries they may have, such as sports."

Away from his establishments, Treacy is admittedly shy. In fact, he often buys tickets to major charity functions, mostly just to support the cause because he rarely even considers attending.

"When I'm outside of my own comfort zone, I'm shy. I don't like going to public places; I don't like going to public events," said Treacy, a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of guy.

"I started T's years ago, and all of the other places since, to better my own life and, in turn, hopefully, help others. Business has been great. I'm blessed—I'm living my own destiny, and I don't think everyone can say that. I'm doing exactly what I'm meant to be doing," Treacy said.

This article shared 6433 times since Wed Mar 28, 2012
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