Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lauren Silich: taking Chick-fil-A to a new frontier

What type of person does it take to run one of the most successful new restaurants in Chicago? Well, considering the restaurant is a southern fixture, a lifelong Midwesterner wouldn’t be the first thought would it?

Well that would be the case, and Chick-fil-A Franchised Restaurant Operator Lauren Silich has taken quite the path to get to where she is now, serving happiness and high quality food on the corner of Chicago and Wabash.

“I’m proud to be the person who go to take them there [first location in the city of Chicago],” the 33-year-old Silich said.

The success of this “flagship” location, as Chick-fil-A likes to call it (due to the high profile, high visibility, and high traffic) has come quickly. The restaurant is already in the top five of the entire chain and broke first day and hourly sales records on the grand opening day.

Founded in Atlanta, Chick-fil-A has an almost cult-like following in the south and seems to gain one wherever else they decide to open one up. This location in downtown Chicago is also special according to Silich because there are items and ideas at this location that aren’t available anywhere else.

“This restaurant, for lack of a better term, is a concept store for Chick-fil-A,” Silich commented. “There area a lot of things here that are in test, from the food to the tables, chairs, marble, stools, patios, light fixtures, and LED lighting.”

But it is almost impossible to know how the restaurant has been so successful without seeing how Silich got to be the head honcho for this location.

The fourth-generation Chicagoan, now married to a Chicago Poilice sergeant with one daughter, is from the West Lawn neighborhood on the Southwest side of the city, and when she was young she moved out to the suburbs of Palos Hills and attended Stagg High School.

Sillich attended Marquette University and got her bachelor’s degree in journalism and moved to Monroe, Wis. where she was the lead reporter for The Monroe Times for two years.

Being the beat and sports reporter, which she admits she “Wasn’t as good at as she hoped she’d be,” led her back to her hometown Chicago with the hopes of getting hired by the Tribune or Sun-Times. When she found out they were in a hiring freeze, you could essentially call the start of her career metamorphosis.

She took a job at Imagination, a custom content and custom publishing agency. Silich described the job, at first, as a hybrid of journalism and marketing. She enjoyed it and “loved the culture of the company” which led her to stay there for nine years. Among her clients at Imagination were Wells Fargo, General Mills, and Chick-fil-A.

The latter of the three companies thought she was really good at what she did. Her job at the company was to give good advice and information about the companies about how to market themselves and get better known. That is when she decided to take a shot at interviewing for an operator position.

After an extensive interview process with Chick-fil-A, about two and a half years, she was picked to run the historic first store in the Windy City and the fifth in the Chicagoland area. It is not an honor she takes lightly.

“About 25-30,000 people apply to run a restaurant every year,” Silich said. “The pick 50. It’s very competitive.”

She is enjoying all that comes with running a new restaurant in a major city like Chicago, but she admits that there are challenges facing her and the brand in general.

“A vast majority have no idea what we are,” Silich admitted, saying that 75 percent of her staff had never even had Chick-fil-A before being hired. “The biggest challenge was, and will be for a long time, building brand awareness. Who we are, what do we sell, what are we known for.”

Another challenge for Silich has been marketing, which because it is a new store in an area with not many Chick-fil-A locations, does not have the market accrual that a region like Houston does. Instead, they have had to focus on extremely local marketing and word of mouth, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) and charity donations.

“A big part of our marketing is just getting our food out there, especially in a new market,” Silich said. “Me just marketing this store has been about as well as you can do.”

In the end, she took the job and has been able to succeed because of two simple things are that are now intertwined.

“I’m a friend of the brand [Chick-fil-A] because I’ve worked with them for so long, and I understand Chicago because I was born here.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview with Professional Cyclist Cole House

Things are different for Cole House the professional cycler now in almost every conceivable way.

The transition from Europe back to America for cycling has not been the easiest, but it would be tough to tell just by looking at his race results. The native of Oneida, Wis., a small town just outside of Green Bay, has made his presence felt by winning a couple of races. The most notable of them so far has been the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the official start to the 2011 USA Cycling National Racing Calendar.

“It was down to four guys in the lead group,” House said about the end of the Redlands. “Sometimes you get another opportunity and you have to take it.”

A slight break in NRC action after the Sunny King Criterium led House to the Sea Otter Classic, where he also claimed victory in the first stage of the race.

The success has come at a price, one that House is no doubt willing to pay. As reported by Daniel Benson at Cyclingnews, House rode for the BMC development team in 2009 and 2010. He rode in the US but also spent a good amount of time in Europe. The differences have been noticeable, and that’s just talking about off the bicycle.

“In Europe, everything is so close,” he commented. “Belgium is two hours from everything. Here it’s pretty difficult, especially with all the travel. Travel days are just as hard as the race days on your body. I’m still trying to figure it out, it’s pretty tough.”

With his travel schedule looking something like a rock star’s itinerary, it’s hard not to believe him. From the start of the NRC to the Sea Otter Classic, House has gone from California to Arizona (where the team’s facilities are located) to Georgia, then traveling on the road to Alabama for the Sunny King and back to California for his most recent race.

Team size, in addition to traveling, has also been a big difference in the team transition. House has admitted to liking the smaller team at, saying it “is more like a family.” The 13 member team is just under half of the 27 he was apart of with BMC.

“On my last team, you would show up to a race with a guy you haven’t seen in three months,” he acknowledged.

House also admitted that the courses in the US differ than the European ones in that they are “shorter, faster, more punchier here,”.

When he first came back to the states, House admitted to being a bit disappointed at not being offered a pro contract. The disappointment seems to be gone now, especially with a few wins under his belt.

Although his hometown is so close to “Titletown, USA”, House admits to not being a Packers fan and actually goes against the grain to stir up the pot with his family and friends. Hopefully he can bring some trophies of his own back to the Cheese State.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where Do I Watch My Team At?

For those fans of college and pro football whose teams are not named the Chicago Bears and conference is not named the Big Ten, finding the game on television can be a pain. Where should you go?

Fortunately for the football-displaced in the Windy City, there are options available, but you have to search.

"Bars throughout the city of Chicago choose a tie with a college and pro team," one anonymous bartender at the Houndstooth Saloon in Wrigleyville. "There's no real tie to them (University of Alabama) but we wanted to do an SEC team."

The Crimson Tide bar has been in its current location for about a year but has been open in Chicag for five years. It is adorned with the Crimson Tide championship banner from 2010 and immediately noticeable with the crimson and white sign. The name of the bar is so unique because it is actually named after the famous houndstooth hat that legendary Bama Head Coach Bear Bryant would wear on the sidelines during games.

There are plenty other bars around Chicago just in case Alabama happens to not be the team you root for. O'Malleys West in Lincoln Park is a Michigan State bar and McGee's, also in LP and just steps from the DePaul University campus, is an Ohio State bar. McDunna's (1505 W. Fullerton) is a Nebraska Cornhuskers bar that is always packed on gamedays.

Although these bars are the places to be during the season, what happens when football is not on the big screen? Some places struggle for business in the offseason between January and late August.

The Houndstooth Saloon bartender did mention the advantage of the bar being located in Wrigleyville, saying "all during baseball season (with the Cubs), that's a big draw."

The site is also a very useful tool in finding where to watch certain teams play at. The website promises to "help groups of people with shared interests plan meetings and form offline clubs in local communities around the world."

Although football season is still seven months away, it is not too early to stake out bars for next year so you can root on your favorite team. No more worries about not being able to find them on TV at home.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chicago: A Sneakerhead's Paradise?

What is a sneakerhead to do in Chicago?

Better question: what is a sneakerhead?

The answer is actually quite simple. A sneakerhead is someone who loves sneakers and needs to have the latest and greatest in “kicks”. They are sometimes known to spend their rent money on a nice new pair of Nikes.

The obsession runs deep.

But where do sneakerheads go to get their fix in the city of Chicago? And where would the aspiring go if they are not familiar with the area? The Windy City does not have the same reputation for sneakers that New York or Los Angeles does.

Fear not though, there are plenty local shops in the area out to prove that the Foot Lockers and Finish Lines of the world cannot satisfy your true need for great footwear.

“People want something they can’t get elsewhere,” David Rasool Robinson, the manager and photographer of Saint Alfred, commented. “They don’t want a bunch of other people with that [the same sneakers as them].”

The Wicker Park (1531 N. Milwaukee Ave.) sneaker store has been open since 2005 and is their only location. What the store lacks in physical size, it makes up for in sneakers that are exclusive and shirts that are off the wall. A review of Saint Alfred on the website Yelp describes it as “Probably the best sneaker store in Chicago… maybe not for the average consumer but for the pure ‘sneakerhead’.”

Another store that gets a lot of buzz in the city is Akin Chicago. There are two locations, in University Village (1313 S. Halsted St.) and Lincoln Park (2350 N. Clark St.) just minutes from the DePaul University campus.

“New York’s got their game on, west coast has their game on, but Chicago is keeping up with them, it’s growing rapidly,” John Nguyen said. “I don’t know how it is out in New York or L.A. or any other city versus Chicago. But everyone here is kind of like a family you know.”

Nguyen, the owner of the Akin Chicago Lincoln Park location, is doing his best to reach out to the community near the school. The store offers 20 percent off to DePaul University students and he said that the DePaul basketball team frequents the store.

What both Robinson and Nguyen agree on are the advantages to going to smaller and more local stores as compared to going to the bigger chains that are nationwide.
“People, especially sneakerheads, they don’t like going to corporate stores,” Nguyen admitted. “They like to support the local business, the ‘mom and pop’ stores, [it’s] more personable.”

Robinson and Nguyen also let it be known that they stick to the local theme not just by what they sell, but also by using local designers in creating apparel.

“[In-house designers] makes it that much more of a representative of the city,” Robinson said. “Chicago is rich with talent.”

There are many more local sneaker stores in the city, and one wonders if there is ever rivalry or slander to steal customers away from those other stores? Not according to the store employees.

“The biggest misconception is that it’s a competition,” Robinson conceded, saying that it would do not only the stores, but also the city a disservice. “If there is any competition,it's to make the city better.”

So if there is a sneaker that you want but cant find, go to one of these stores. Can’t find them there? They will be more than happy to point you in the direction of another great store for “sneakerheads”.

Friday, January 8, 2010

DB's Saturday Wild Card Weekend Predictions

All of the football that has been played so far, and the season is just now starting. The road to the playoffs was paved in many different ways for the 12 teams in the dance. From knowing your fate early and deciding to rest starters to backing in with major help from all the teams that matter, the Wild Card weekend is set. Who will survive another week and who will go home to think about next year? You will find out here:

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals, 4:30 p.m., NBC

Gang Green is elated that they are in the playoffs. I can't deny that fact, even if I do think that they backed into the playoffs by playing two teams that I think gave up in the last two weeks of the regular season. All that matters now is that they are in the tournament, now they have a chance.

They simply dominated the Bengals last week in their 37-0 victory. It looks like Cincinnati was playing to win the game for the most part as well, but they were missing key pieces that they will get back this week. RB Cedric Benson, S Chris Crocker, and DT Domata Peko will be back in the lineup for this critical contest. WR Chad Ochocinco (or is it Johnson again after last week?) should be feeling better after injuring his knee in warmups.

The Bengals have a tall task on both sides of the ball. The Jets defense is a tough puzzle to solve, with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Darrelle Revis shutting down any and everything that comes to his side of the field. The availability of LB David Harris is in doubt though, which would certainly hurt the Jets.

The Jets run game can certainly be imposing, but I think with Peko back for Cincy will provide the help they will need.

I am predicting a Cincinnati win because for as much NFL as I have watched in my life, I know it is extremely tough to beat a team twice in a season. Now you are asking rookie QB Mark Sanchez to beat the same team in consecutive weeks. Cincinnati will unleash a full game plan with a bigger arsenal because of healthier players. They are also at home, and fans in that city have been waiting for years for a game of this magnitude.

DB's prediction: Cincinnati 20 NY Jets 14

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys, 8 p.m., NBC

One of the best rivalries in the NFL is back in primetime, now the stakes are at their highest. Dallas dominated this season's series, sweeping both games. Last week when they played, Dallas showed up in a big way and dominated the Eagles en route to a 24-0 victory.

Tony Romo had the best December he has ever had as a pro, the Cowboys have all the momentum in the world going into the playoffs and they also beat an Eagles team that had everything to play for last week. So why do I think Philadelphia will win next week? Why do I even think they have a chance?

The Eagles have the head on the sidelines and under center. When it comes down to it, I still believe Donovan McNabb is the better QB. He also has much more playoff experience. Tony Romo now has his chance that he is not the same old... Tony Romo.

I think Andy Reid will have a game plan for Saturday that will be more than ready to head back to "Jerry's World". Desean Jackson will be the big factor for Philly, and Demarcus Ware for Dallas. This one, however, I see going to the visiting team.

DB's prediction: Philadelphia 30 Dallas 28

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Vince Young for MVP?

Valuable: an adjective which is defined in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as of great use or service. There are alternate definitions for the word, but that one fits my argument the best.
All you Tennessee Titans fans can come out of hiding now. The shame of an 0-6 start has been almost entirely washed away by five wins in a row. They are only two games out of the final wild card spot.
I know this is Jaguar nation that I am writing to, but sit back and look at the marvels of an NFL player who was given a second chance. What was unheard of just a month ago is now a definite possibility thanks in large part to one person. Can you take a guess as to who it is?
It is no other than the third pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, Vince Young. I threw out an idea a few days ago on my Twitter that I thought was very valid, but I was in the sever minority: Vince Young as the NFL Most Valuable Player. Yes, back to that word ‘valuable’.
Am I crazy? He’s only started five games, how valuable can someone be if they haven’t even started half the season?
That feeds into my point in a way. Young is the definition of value to his team, the numbers are simple: 0-6 without ‘VY’ as the starter, 5-0 with him in the lineup.
He doesn’t put up the flashiest numbers, but he does the same thing he did at Texas, which is produce victories. His nine straight wins as a starter clearly show that.
His effect since stepping in has been felt all over the Titans’ team. There are the people that say that Young isn’t even the most valuable player on his own team, and I disagree.
Chris Johnson has been an absolutely dynamic player and I believe he is the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in my opinion. He just isn’t the most valuable. He has played in every game for Tennessee, which means he was there for the six losses as well as the five wins.
Even if you look at the stats for Johnson, the difference in the first six games and the next five are staggering. Before the week seven bye, he had 596 yards and two touchdowns in six games. Since the bye week, he has run for 800 yards and seven touchdowns in five games. Pretty large difference if you ask me.
Head Coach Jeff Fisher probably saved Young’s career by benching him. That forced him to take a look in the mirror to see what was wrong. He has been studying like a true NFL quarterback instead of just relying on his athletic ability.
In all of the times I have watched him play, this is the first time I have seen him show consistent pocket-passing abilities. It is impressive and he can move the team down the field and not need to go to Chris Johnson at all, like he did on the final drive against Arizona.
His stat line from Sunday’s game went like this: 27-of-43 for 387 yards and threw one touchdown. He may not put up great stats all the time, but when he needs to, he certainly can.
He has made the team better not only with his maturity, but also with the natural ability that made him a first round pick originally. When he chooses to scramble now, it actually puts the defense in a predicament.
Do not think that I am putting him above players like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, who had great games in their own right last weekend. They have also done it over the course of the whole season. I still think he needs to be in the conversation just because he is winning.
I have heard that he deserves to be NFL Comeback Player of the Year. That is without question, at least so far. What in my right mind puts him in the MVP discussion?
It is never wise to assume, and the word ‘if’ should never be used because the NFL is so unpredictable. Vince Young has done a great job to bring his team back to respectability. If (there goes that word!) he can keep up this high level of play, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in the discussion.
As we have seen in the past five weeks, there have not been many people of great use or service like the one that has been playing great football in Nashville.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Move Over to the Slow 'Lane'

I'm sure this is not what Tennessee Head Coach Lane Kiffin had in store for this season. Not after all of the talking he did during the offseason.

A 2-3 record in SEC play and a 5-4 record overall isn't the greatest, but honestly it was to be expected in the first year. The personnel clearly isn't his and you can see that when you watch the Volunteers play.

The silver lining has been safety Eric Berry, but he was great before Kiffin and likely will be great when he leaves as well. UT Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin has turned their defense into one of the nation's better units, I can't take that away from them.

But it seems that the incident that happened earlier this week nullified any progress that the younger Kiffin has been working toward.

Three UT freshmen football players were arrested and charged with armed robbery after the police stopped them and found marijuana and a pellet gun in the car. The driver of the car was a woman, and she was also arrested.

As of this blog post, two of the players have been released from jail. Safety Janzen Jackson was released on his own recognizance and defensive back Mike Edwards was released after posting bond. Wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson still remains in the Knox County Detention Center because he has not posted the $19,500 bond.

Obviously the justice system will say that they are innocent until proven guilty. That doesn't mean it will be left alone in the court of public opinion. Lane Kiffin has a deep hole to dig out of right here, especially because he is the one that proclaimed that his program would be run with discipline.

I don't see the discipline right now, Lane.

There are other things that I have heard that make this incident that much more perplexing and intriguing. For instance, I've heard that in the alleged robbery attempt had on UT hoodies. Really though? In Knoxville?

I don't condone the robbery at all, but if you're going to do that to someone in a town that lives and dies by the creamsicle orange, don't wear that!

I also heard that the incident took place outside of a gas station that is owned by the largest booster that UT has. So large, in fact that the business school is named after him (Jim Haslam). Great job right there.

This is just another black eye to Kiffin, who wrote checks his mouth and coaching haven't been able to cash. He needs to take some swift action in regards to these players. Once the facts come out (if they aren't already) and this turns out to be fully true, all three players need to be kicked off of the team.

Even Urban Meyer and the University of Florida thinks these players crossed the line.