Farewell, West Loop
Basecamp has closed its physical office after a 10-year run in Chicago’s West Loop area. In this episode, we say good-bye to the neighborhood and two of its businesses. J.P. Graziano and un-cooked are small, family-owned restaurants on either side of the longevity spectrum: Jim Graziano is the fourth-generation owner of an Italian food importer-turned-sandwich shop, and Jeremy Jones opened his vegan grab-and-go place with his mother and wife in July. Jim and Jeremy talk about weathering the pandemic as independent restaurant owners.
- Our previous episode about closing the Chicago office - 00:21
- J.P. Graziano Grocery Company website | Instagram | Twitter - 2:15
- un-cooked website | Instagram
- Collective Resource Compost - 12:27
- Strength in the City | fundraising campaign for their mentorship program with SRV - 20:17
- Taste Real Chicago - 34:03
The Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:00:02] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Shaun Hildner.
Wailin: [00:00:06] And I’m Wailin Wong. Listeners of this show might remember that Basecamp had a physical office in Chicago. It’s where we used to record this show, you know, in the before-times. When the lease was up, Basecamp’s CEO Jason Fried decided not to renew it. This is something we covered on the show, so we moved out in July after 10 years in that space.
Shaun: [00:00:26] We didn’t even get to say much of a goodbye to the office, you know, we were supposed to have that big final company meetup in April, but that got canceled. The Chicago people had to go in one at a time to clean out their desks and all the furniture and stuff is now in storage. And then, finally, a few of us put on masks and got together for a very short champagne toast and final walk-through.
Wailin: [00:00:47] We didn’t get to say goodbye to the neighborhood, either. The office was in a part of Chicago known as the West Loop. In this episode, you’ll also hear us refer to an area called Fulton Market, which, I think technically is an adjacent neighborhood, but is often used interchangeably with the West Loop.
[00:01:04] Anyway, today is our farewell to the neighborhood and the businesses in it. As some of the only Chicago Basecampers that commuted to the office regularly, we got to know a bunch of lunch spots in particular. Like, do you remember that place with the polenta where the polenta came out of a spigot?
Shaun: [00:01:18] I actually really liked the polenta place.
Wailin: [00:01:21] I did, too. And whenever I was like, oh, they’re like these big metal urns full of polenta and it comes out of a spigot, people were like, “That sounds disgusting.” Which, I—
Shaun: [00:01:29] It was kind of magical.
Wailin: [00:01:31] I think maybe I was just describing it in a not very flattering way.
Shaun: [00:01:34] That’s fair. Yeah, I don’t think that’s how they described it.
Wailin: [00:01:37] PolentaFromASpigot.com
Shaun: [00:01:39] Mm-hmm.
Wailin: [00:01:39] Yeah.
Shaun: [00:01:41] You know, a lot of those restaurants came and went during the decade that Basecamp was in the West Loop, but I’m sure you know, I basically ate at only one sandwich place every single day for the eight years I was at the office.
[00:01:54] So today on the show, we each picked a West Loop business to talk to about the last 10 years in the neighborhood and how they’re dealing with the massive changes caused by this current pandemic. Obviously, I decided to talk to the man who fed me Italian subs every day.
[00:02:07] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Jim: [00:02:15] My name’s Jim Graziano, I am the fourth generation owner of J.P. Graziano Grocery Company, located in what is now called the West Loop of Chicago. When my great-grandpa started there, his main business was an importer and wholesale food distributor. So he would bring in products from Italy, Sicily, Greece, other Mediterranean countries right around there. We would warehouse them in the same place that we’re at now, and then we would sell them wholesale to restaurants, delis, bakeries, pizza places, you know. If you were buying Italian food, we were selling it to you.
[00:02:50] His brother, Guiseppe Graziano stayed in Bagheria, Sicily, the whole time. He had never come to America. And so my great-grandpa would go to Italy in Sicily, hand-pick his products. His brother Guiseppe would make the boxes to ship the stuff from Sicily in Italy to America. So from 1937 all the way to 2006, it was only wholesale.
[00:03:13] 2006, we started sandwiches in addition to the wholesale. Very small, kind of like scratched out corner of the place. 2013, I fully phased out wholesale and just went with the sandwiches full-bore, and then held onto the specialty groceries that are your basics. Imported plum tomatoes, olive oils, cheeses, obviously the meats. With the sandwiches, we slice by the pound, retail style. And it’s, you know, kind of fully changed into just a self-sufficient sandwich shop.
Shaun: [00:03:49] And has the shop always been in that space in the West Loop?
Jim: [00:03:51] June 7th, 1937 is when my great-grandpa moved to 901 West Randolph. He’s a very special person in my life because I walked the same floors, I’ll sit behind the same window to collect cash when you’re in the office and still, for some of the families that come in and grocery shop, sell to the same families. All that is still intact, we just sell sandwiches instead of cases of pasta.
Shaun: [00:04:17] And you’ve been able to keep the business very small. How many employees work at J.P. Graziano? And it’s still family, right?
Jim: [00:04:24] Yeah, my mom, Mary Ellen, that you know well. Mrs. G, as everybody calls her. My sister DeAna, that is my left arm in this business. I could not run it without her. And then we have seven guys besides that that absolutely do all the heavy lifting and the hard rowing.
Shaun: [00:04:42] So we moved in, we had a 10-year lease starting in 2010. And it’s become sort of a fancy living and dining neighborhood. How have you seen the West Loop change in the last 10 years?
Jim: [00:04:58] I have known that neighborhood and that street and that corner in particular since 1989. As a nine year old going to work with Dad Saturdays, winter vacation, summer vacation, teacher institute day, you name it. If I didn’t go to school, I went to work with Dad. You know, I kind of went kicking and screaming—
Shaun: [00:05:14] Sure.
Jim: [00:05:14] But, it played such a pivotal role in how and why I run my business as I do, because I know the true bones of that neighborhood. 10 years ago, I was out of college and working there full time, so yeah, I know. Well, there was some lingering people. Like across the street there was an N & G Produce. A family run business, fruit and vegetables, that were still there. You had Rubinos at Lake and Halsted as the fish house. You had Isaacson & Stein, that was another fish house. That was kind of a rough time. You’re talking 2010, so you’re just getting out of that huge financial crash, it wasn’t filled with a ton of restaurants. Definitely not hotels like it is presently, today.
[00:06:03] And then when we started getting all these new neighbors, you know, you get a little nervous because you’re so used to the people that you work with and knew your entire life before that. But I’m always very happy to report to anybody that asks, though it looks so different and maybe some of the soul of the original Randolph Street is gone, all the new neighbors that moved in, and those business owners, even if it’s a large restaurant group, these people jumped right in and they really appreciated the tradition of the neighborhood. And didn’t come to take over or claim it. They wanted to add to it. They’re there for you.
[00:06:39] And that’s how businesses were ran back in the day, right? It was a very symbiotic relationship. The fruit and vegetable guy needed to be doing good, the meat market needed to be doing good, and if they were doing good, we were doing good. Business was rolling. It’s the same philosophy now.
Shaun: [00:06:53] I loved talking to Jim so much.
Wailin: [00:06:55] Oh.
Shaun: [00:06:56] And we’ll hear more from him a little bit later. But first, Wailin, who did you talk to for this story?
Wailin: [00:07:00] I talked to Jeremy Jones. He and his mom and his wife all went into business together and opened a new restaurant right in the middle of the pandemic. It is a vegan grab-and-go place in the neighborhood, and before opening this restaurant, his mom had actually worked at a couple of other vegan raw restaurants in the city and was known as kind of a pioneer in the space. So here’s Jeremy.
Jeremy: [00:07:24] My name is Jeremy Jones and I am the chief vision officer for un-cooked, which is a plant-based grab-and-go restaurant. Part of three, so it’s myself, my wife, and my mom Carole Jones and Kaitlyn Jones. My mom Carole is actually the co-founder of Chicago Raw. And then before that she was the general manager at Karyn’s, so she’s been doing this for quite some time.
[00:07:44] My wife’s been vegetarian most of her life. Five years ago, we decided to take the plunge and go 100% vegan, so there’s kind of a nuance here between plant-based and vegan, right? So, plant-based just refers to your diet, vegan refers to your lifestyle. So we decided to go the whole enchilada, and just go vegan completely. That means not sourcing any leather, making sure we understand where our products are coming from, making sure that they’re ethically sourced, they’re sustainable, those kind of things.
[00:08:13] I have always had a passion for conscious business and kind of reframing the narrative, especially now around what capitalism means, so what the true power of business, when it’s fully harnessed in a regenerative fashion, could be. Being African-American and looking at what’s going on in my own city is also really important to me and reframing the narrative around what agency really looks like. We sat down last year and we looked at each other, and we said, hey, if we’re really serious about starting a business and doing something that’s conscious and doing something that is actually going to heal the world, versus wait. And we opened July 6th of 2020. So it took us about a year to get all the pieces going and to find the right space.
Wailin: [00:08:57] How did you envision it at the beginning? Did you envision it as a grab-and-go or did you talk through some different formats for the restaurant?
Jeremy: [00:09:07] The premise behind un-cooked was to make plant-based eating, especially live plants, more approachable. Make sustainability easier, but also remove as many barriers between our patrons and making a healthy, conscious choice. So we wanted to just give access to healthy, delicious food that good for yourself, your community, and the planet. So we always wanted to make it a grab-and-go. We also wanted to price it where it doesn’t seem like you’re paying an arm and a leg for healthy food. Package it in a way where it still gives justice to the food. Luckily for us, it does okay in our current environment, but it was always the plan for us to be grab-and-go.
Wailin: [00:09:47] How did you settle on Fulton Market? Were there other neighborhoods you looked at or were you pretty determined to be in Fulton Market on the West Loop?
Jeremy: [00:09:55] Fulton Market was the place where we really wanted to be and it just so happened to be that actually the space where we are now is the first location we looked at. There’s a lot of young, conscious, or people that want to be conscious, people that want to do the right thing. A lot of businesses that I feel are more or less at least saying the right thing. There’s also, at least before COVID, a lot of diversity and people coming in and people coming out. We really envisioned un-cooked as a place where you could spend 45 minutes, an hour, two hours if you wanted to and learn about the food and sit down and feel comfortable, or a place where if you’re just grabbing a quick bite and you have a 30 minute lunch break. You come in our space, order ahead, spend 30 seconds grabbing your food and leave.
[00:10:36] So Fulton Market really married all of those things.
Wailin: [00:10:38] I think you are in, if I got my geography right, you are in the Google building?
Jeremy: [00:10:43] Yes. Well, I call the Google Annex. Google has two buildings, we’re in the second Google building.
Wailin: [00:10:49] I’m sure pre-COVID, it seemed like an incredible place to be in in terms of getting that lunch crowd, right? Because you’ve got a whole building of Googlers who, like you said, might have a 30 minute lunch break and they run downstairs and grab something and then they don’t even have to leave the building.
Jeremy: [00:11:04] Yes, I think that that was the—that was definitely one of the big selling points of where we are. We have access to the lobby. The density of office workers under typical times, was definitely very attractive for us. But we’ve been very fortunate to have already, even though it’s only been seven weeks, a pretty loyal following. People traveling from other parts of the city, ordering delivery, and then just the West Loop and the Fulton Market, people who live here have been really making it a point to come support us, which is really incredible to see.
[00:11:36] But yeah, it’s obviously—the traffic and our business isn’t where we want to be, but we’re privileged to even keep our doors open and not to be afraid of what tomorrow brings.
Wailin: [00:11:46] Can you talk about how you designed the packaging and approached finding vendors and suppliers as you built out your restaurant that you felt good about working with while also being mindful of all of the costs you would have as a business just getting going.
Jeremy: [00:12:03] We’ve invested an inordinate amount of time vetting vendors, making sure we understand the supply chain, making sure we understand the start to the finish. Kaitlyn, my wife, she’s sourced all the packaging, even down to the fact that our stickers are compostable, right? Because if you put a regular plastic sticker on a compostable lid, that automatically means that it’s not compostable. We have a partnership with, we work with Collective Resources that actually makes composting at home very easy. They give you a bucket that’s airtight. You put your food scraps and your compostable packaging in your bucket. And then every week, or every two weeks, they come exchange that bucket for you and they even do it in residential areas and high-rises, which is really cool. So we offer that to people.
[00:12:48] And then my mom is just a genius at what she does. I think she’s the best raw food chef in the world. We really harness her power, so we have a limited list of ingredients, but we took those ingredients and those vegetables and transformed them into completely different things. So that really helps us minimize costs, reduce waste. I think if you come from a place of lack, which a lot of restaurant, or, this is my story, that a lot of restaurant owners do. Because inherently, restaurants are such a low-margin business. They’re so afraid of investing in a higher piece per unit packaging, or a higher piece per unit vegetable versus coming up from a place of abundance and saying, okay, this is my end goal, and this is where I would like to be, which is what we did. We looked at okay, here’s what, ideally, we would like to charge for a salad. So it’s affordable and people feel like they can get a deal. What is it we have to do to still fit our mission and make that price work?
[00:13:43] If you look at a typical kitchen, a typical restaurant, usually deals with anywhere between 10 to 30-40% spoilage and waste of food. Whether it’s because they trim things inefficiently, they don’t have good processes and procedures in place, they’re ordering too much and things are spoiling. We have three different colored bins in the back that are compostable, landfill for things that we get from the outside. Sometime we get deliveries that are in Styrofoam or something. And then our recycling, and really putting signs, gigantic signs everywhere so our staff knows what to put where.
[00:14:17] It’s really those small things that add up to a gigantic mountain of trash at the end of the year.
Wailin: [00:14:24] Yeah.
Jeremy: [00:14:24] And show up on your bottom line. If you actively try to reduce waste and be more conscious, it’s going to show up on your bottom line because you’re buying less, you’re spending less and you’re throwing away less. It’s that simple.
Wailin: [00:14:36] What stage of opening were you at when March rolled around?
Jeremy: [00:14:40] We were hoping to open in February. Obviously, there were rumblings of COVID, but there were other things that kind of delayed our initial breaking ground, and then when we broke ground on construction, we were hoping to open in March. Then obviously COVID started hitting us and affecting us and we kind of reassessed. We just picked a date. We looked at July 4th and were just, let’s just open the doors July 6th. Even if it’s just us three having to work, then that’s fine. Because we, again, I think it’s really important for us to reframe. If you’re focused on survival, that’s all you’re going to get is survival, and you’re just going to barely make it. We really wanted to, as best we can, use COVID as a silver lining, and see, okay, if we’re able to make it through this, there’s nothing that can ever break us. So we really looked at it as an opportunity to stress test our business, because we’d rather fail now and not have years and years invested into it than wait and try to survive and then fail, five, six years down the road.
Wailin: [00:15:46] You’re speaking with this kind of calmness and very reflective, but were there some moments, especially in that March/April timeframe where you were like, oh, my God.
Jeremy: [00:15:58] Oh, for sure. I think, I mean, I still have those, right? Even before COVID, the amount of research we did on our responsibility as humans to the world we live on was scary. There are still days where we’re just like, oh, my God. What is going on? Right? And even days where we’re really busy one day and then we’re slow the next and more riots happen and people feel afraid to leave their house and it shows up on our balance sheets, and then I hear horror stories of places in the inner city that are closing down.
[00:16:31] Obviously, there are still days where we wake up, and we’re like, wow. This is crazy, what were we thinking, but those moments are just… I mean, it’s part of being human, but it’s important for us not to get caught up in those moments and not react from those moments and to always hold the higher vision and act in accordance with that higher vision.
Wailin: [00:16:49] What new plans or pivots did you have to make in those couple of months after you decided you would delay opening to July?
Jeremy: [00:16:58] So, luckily, we already baked in a lot of disaster planning into our business. As far as operations are concerned, we had to limit our staff. Originally, we were planning on having four people in the space. We had to reduce those and hire less. We had a big plan on doing what we call un-cooked [unclear] where you’re able to order un-cooked for your office at a set time and have it delivered. Obviously, we had to scrap those plans. We also had to double check and triple check our sanitation. We found compostable gloves, which, it’s not cheap, but there was no way we were going to use single-use plastics.
Wailin: [00:17:34] Wow.
Jeremy: [00:17:34] Finding face masks that are reusable and washable that we can give to our team members, we have to go through three iterations of those versus buying cheaper PPE. Finding the right hand sanitizer, consistently educating our staff on how to interact with patrons and how to make sure that we’re safe. We had an unfortunate incident in our first week that we had a person that was working with us that allowed her personal beliefs to cloud her ability to make someone feel safe, so we’ve been in the unfortunate situation of having to let her go.
Wailin: [00:18:06] It was like a mask conflict, or something?
Jeremy: [00:18:07] Yeah, it was like a mask conflict, and I think the most important thing that, and this is what I always tell the people that work with us. It’s hospitality. It’s our job and our responsibility to make people feel welcome and feel safe and during COVID, wearing a mask, cleaning things, that’s part of it. And how you feel and how you view wearing masks is irrelevant because it’s part of what makes people feel safe.
Wailin: [00:18:30] What was opening day like for you?
Jeremy: [00:18:32] We were fairly busy. Not insanely busy, but we were busy enough where it felt like oh, wow, okay, this is not gonna be a horrible situation. People were really anticipating us being open, and we did a lot of sampling events pre-COVID. My mom’s already—it’s not her first rodeo, so she already ran a successful grab-and-go raw place before. So, really harnessing and making people aware that this is her new venture was also really good. I mean, people have just been awesome with coming into our space, being blown away, and following us and posting about us on Instagram. Telling their friends, coming back.
[00:19:08] We were pretty afraid because we’re already out on a skinny branch. We’re a raw vegan place, there are very few of them in the United States, even fewer in the Midwest. We were afraid that people were just—would be too turned off by the fact that they’re not able to have a place to land. But it’s so surprising to me to see how awesome people have been, and how great people have been and how curious people have been.
Wailin: [00:19:31] Are there days when you’re like, thank God, we envisioned this as a grab-and-go instead of a fine dining, sit-down?
Jeremy: [00:19:38] Yes, yes, yes. The amount of times that I say thank God we’re not a typical restaurant is probably every day. We just wanted to make damn good food but every time you peel back the layers of the onion, you’re like, oh wow, they’re zero waste. Oh wow, they have a mentorship for inner city youth. Many people don’t know what we’re doing and why we’re closed on Sundays. I don’t know if you noticed that. Which is pretty atypical, especially for a restaurant, especially during COVID. Right, you’d figure we’d try to make as much money as possible and stay open as long as possible. The goal was really to put consciousness and put regenerative capitalism, is what I call it, at the forefront of our business.
[00:20:15] So we worked with Strength in the City and James Graham who’s a former NFL player. He has a not for profit called SRV, S-R-V, where we have a year-long mentorship program that we’re launching at the end of September where one kid has access to that mentor for a whole year. I’ve been privileged enough to have great people invest in me and great people mentor me. I don’t have a college degree. I barely graduated high school. It wasn’t for a lack of smarts, it was just I was a disengaged youth. And reframing that for me was mostly the pivotal narrative because I understood that unless I transformed that, I’ll never fulfill on what it is I’m here to fulfill.
Shaun: [00:20:56] Well, let’s jump ahead to 2020. Can you talk a little bit about how the business has changed during COVID?
Jim: [00:21:01] We closed down kind of right away in the beginning of March. One of the biggest factors was Guiseppe Graziano, that I had spoken about, his business is still run by his great-grandson. They’re in the fourth generation business of making these boxes still.
Shaun: [00:21:18] Oh, wow.
Jim: [00:21:18] Yeah. It’s really cool. And one of the reasons I had closed down so early was speaking with my cousin, Guiseppe, Italy kind of was really getting knocked around with it.
Shaun: [00:21:27] Yeah.
Jim: [00:21:27] Before it became real real here, his advice was, listen, you’re probably going to have to get out of there. I couldn’t really change things on the fly. I mean, Shaun, you’ve been coming to my store a long time, and I’m not trying to like, toot our horn or pat my back, but we’re busy, right?
Shaun: [00:21:43] Oh yeah.
Jim: [00:21:43] There’s people in and out of my store, thankfully, all day long. I couldn’t, like, start making small adjustments while that was going on. So to me, it was like, all right, let’s just play it as safe as possible, everybody go home. Stay there for two weeks. I’m going to start to figure out a plan. When I had first opened up, those first two weeks, I did delivery only. We had been doing delivery for a long time, so for me to do deliveries was absolutely no problem. The only people that were allowed into our store, and still, is the team, is the employees. And then we added on that you could come to the store to pick up, but you have to pre-order by ordering online or ordering by the phone. And what has gotten us back to kind of conducting business in as close as it used to be was we had this walk-up window. And a lot of people have wanted to tell me, oh, what a brilliant idea, and this is so great, and again, I’d like to take full credit for it, though the idea of putting in that window had nothing to do with nobody could walk in our store. We were going to add night-time hours. We used be open, like 9-5, Monday through Saturday. And we were going to add on hours of like Wednesday through Saturday, 6-1am. Because that neighborhood, I would lock up my doors at 5 o’clock to go home. There would be more people on the street then than there was during the day. And during the day we had done an amazing business. And I just felt like, man, I’m leaving this all on the table.
[00:23:18] So then I started to work on, like, oh, it would be really cool if we could open up at night, and I wouldn’t be running it. This would be like my first time of hiring a GM to run it at night. That was scheduled to open up in April. I had been working on that night window to be approved by the city with architectural drawings, approval from city council and then also it’s a landmark building, so you have to get landmark approval as well. It was like an 18 month process, and it just so happened that it all worked out.
[00:23:49] And then in July, we had it installed and then it turned into, wow, we have what everybody kind of needs nowadays where you can actually walk up, place your order and conduct business without anybody actually walking in our store. We have gone through, I don’t know, four or five iterations since March. And maybe I’m just speaking as a fourth generation owner of an old-school business, it’s the things you don’t change that are usually the most important. And I mean, like, how we conduct our business, how we have personal relationships with all of our customers. You never waver on quality. It’s like, it’s not time to try to pinch pennies here and there. You became who you are by running under this philosophy. When times get tough, don’t change any of that. Stick to your core philosophy, stick to who you are. And then change the things around you that you need to change to conduct business as you need to conduct business given that situation.
[00:24:52] Now if this would have happened years ago, I may not have been able to do that that easily. I have obviously gained a lot of confidence and taken shots, changing on the fly, being very nimble. This is one of those times that I’m happy that I have one small spot, very controllable. I never got over my skiis. If I listened to everybody else, there would be 20 of these places all over the place, I’d be going wild. This is so manageable. I really like it like this.
[00:25:22] The most important part is the strongest team that I have ever had during all of this, them being able to pull all that off. Those guys knowing that their safety was my first and main concern. How do we do business without putting anybody in any sort of jeopardy. They’re all in. When they went home those first two weeks in March, I said, listen, guys. I’m going to pay you in full, no question about it and I don’t have what I have in my life without those guys running through walls every single day. You know, they know I’m going to take care of them, and they take of me.
[00:25:59] And still right now, Shaun, I mean, we’re not doing any sort of walk-in business. I’m not even offering seating. When we first started sandwiches, there was nowhere to sit down, it was still just like straight warehouse. Then it went from, you know, one table to two tables to eight tables to adding on an outdoor patio. No customers have walked in since the beginning of March. No customers have sat and been able to enjoy their lunch at our place. It’s still working out.
Shaun: [00:26:24] Yeah, people are still buying sandwiches, right?
Jim: [00:26:25] People are still buying sandwiches. Great-grandpa would say, man, you always got to eat. What I like to think, and I would never say this about myself, and the only reason I repeat it is because multiple customers have said it to me and it makes me feel really, really good, is that we kind of provide a sense of normalcy. Come to Graziano’s and especially now that I’m up at that window and I get to see and talk to my customers, up from March to July, I didn’t see any customers. I wasn’t able to talk to my customers. It was driving me wild. I mean, I was like depressed about it. That’s my favorite part. The sandwiches are great, yeah, but I like when people come in and we’re BSing and that’s just how we are. I didn’t get to any of that for a number of months so this window has brought me back to life because I do get to see and talk to everybody.
[00:27:14] To me that’s the cornerstone of who we are and when you’re told by your customers, you know, the 10, 15, 20 minute lunch break that I get to have, I kind of get to forget about everything, and you know, I have this great sandwich and think about the conversation and it feels like nothing has ever changed for a while.
[00:27:35] And to be able to provide that to people right now is invaluable, and it makes me very proud and it just makes me want to burst with happiness that we could provide that small little check out for people, and let them feel like, you know what? Everything’s going to be okay.
Shaun: [00:27:53] Well, you’ve been very lucky, but, I mean, how has it been watching a lot of other similar businesses, especially in the West Loop, struggle?
Jim: [00:28:00] Brutal, man. Brutal. For as well as we’ve been able to do, it’s not time to like, celebrate and flaunt success, right? I mean, I never really feel it’s time to flaunt success. But, you know, like even celebrate it, it’s not the time for it. To me, it’s like, come in, conduct the business the right way, do your thing, clean up, come back, do it again tomorrow. And because I have a lot of friends in this industry that are unfortunately kind of hanging by a thread, man. We always have long hard winters to get through in Chicago. This one’s going to be especially difficult with a lot more hoops to jump through. The reality of it is, is a lot of people are going to drop off by the time we get to spring of next year. And so that’s very hard to watch. And I try to help in any way and provide any, even if it’s just an ear or a shoulder to help people kind of let it out because I know what they’re going through, or if I can actually physically do something to help them or provide a resource or whatever I can do, I try to help out. Because, you know, I believe in that community of people.
[00:29:05] Like I said. When everybody’s doing well, everything’s going well. So I don’t want to see places go away. They’re going to, and it feels like there’s just not a lot of middle ground. When you own a small independent place, this isn’t your job. This is your life. As my dad—another great saying my dad used to say was, if people don’t walk through that door, we don’t put shoes on our feet. Shaun, this is how I put shoes on my kids’ feet and a roof over our head. I mean, this is it.
Shaun: [00:29:36] How does this change, this dance that everyone’s sort of had to do during this pandemic, how is this compared to that change of moving from wholesale to sandwiches?
Jim: [00:29:46] It’s going to sound weird, me saying, easier, because it’s a global pandemic that nobody has ever experienced before. If I was able to pivot out of 70-plus year business, completely pivot out of what it was started as and ran for decades as, and me change out of that and come out and be okay. My father passed in 2008. He passed when he was 63 years old, heart attack in his sleep, nobody saw it coming. The guy who was teaching this business the whole way through, I have always felt like if I could do this after losing the biggest part of this, and I’ve been able to get on the other side of that. There’s nothing that could stop me, or scares me from rolling forward with my business.
[00:30:37] I feel that I have dealt with the worst. I cut off the business that was like, to me, the entire world. I lost my father doing this in a very transitional time during the business. And I’ve been able to get to where I’m at now without my dad physically being here. I don’t know how it could get much harder than that because it was not only on a business level, but it was like on a personal and very emotional level as well.
[00:31:02] The stuff with the COVID, it might change things temporarily, month-wise. It might change aspects of a lot of people’s lives and how business is conducted permanently. But I feel that going through those things and then kind of being able to navigate my business from the beginning of March until the end of August during all of this, I feel confident. I have seen so many things in business, ups and downs, and goods and bads. And here I am, still standing. And I’m not trying to sound cocky, but it’s just, you have to have that confidence in yourself of being a small business owner like this that you’re going to get pummelled, but the next day you’d better answer the bell and get to work. I do have hope. And I do feel that it’s going to get better and I know we’ll get out on the other side of this.
[00:31:53] And whenever we get on the other side of this, man, it’s going ot be like a six month long party. And I think a lot of businesses are going to get an injection of people wanting to have a good time, and they’ll all be there ready to handle it. I know I will.
Shaun: [00:32:10] We were there for 1o years at the office in the West Loop, and I was there for eight of those. And it’s just been an absolute treat, multiple times in my career at Basecamp, the highlight of my day, if not my week, was going to get one of your sandwiches. So I just want to thank you for doing this interview, and of course, thank you for the eight years of sandwiches.
Jim: [00:32:32] Shaun, I want to thank you, man, and you know, it’s like, everybody kind of—I do get to hear that a lot, because I am able to make so many different relationships, but, you were one of those cases that kind of walked in one day as a stranger looking for a sandwich and then eight years, somebody that I consider a very close personal friend and we’ve grown to know each other so well. And I’m glad we had that. You know, that time, and it’s like, you always bring together people through food. That’s what I love to do, and I know we’ll be friends for a very, very long time from it. If you are in the West Loop, working or not, you know—
Shaun: [00:33:13] I will always stop by.
Jim: [00:33:15] I thank you just as much as you thank me, because the relationship and the friendship that we have is just as special to me. And so I thank you for your years of love and support and I really appreciate you thinking of me to bring me on the show and I was very happy to do it. So thank you, my friend.
[00:33:31] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:33:36] Rework is produced by Shaun Hildner and me, Wailin Wong. Music for the show is by Clip Art.
Shaun: [00:33:41] un-cooked is at eatun-cooked.com and also on Instagram at @eatun-cooked. You can find J.P. Graziano on Instagram at @JPGraziano, that’s G-R-A-Z-I-A-N-O. And even if you’re not in Chicago, you can order some of their products on a website called tasterealchicago.com. I personally would like to highly recommend the hot giardinera. It’s a Chicago staple. You know, it’s made out of pickled peppers, vegetables and olives, and it’s unbelievable on any sandwich, and especially on pizza.
[00:34:15] Anyway, we’ll link to that in the show notes for this episode, which you can find at rework.fm.
Wailin: [00:34:19] We’re on Twitter at @reworkpodcast and if you like our show, please consider rating and reviewing our show on Apple podcasts.
Shaun: [00:34:26] That would really help us a lot, actually. We have not asked for that in quite a while, but we’d love to hear what you think.
Wailin: [00:34:40] Have you made a tuna fish sandwich and added in the hot giardinera like they do at J.P. Graziano’s?
Shaun: [00:34:46] Yes, of course. You can’t make tuna salad without J.P. Graziano’s hot giardinera.
Wailin: [00:34:52] Um, I…
Shaun: [00:34:52] Even though it has celery in it, which I know you dislike.
Wailin: [00:34:56] I mean, J.P. Graziano’s is the only place I know where when you get their tuna salad sandwich, you can have your tuna salad customized down to removing the celery bits which I always did because I hate celery.
Shaun: [00:35:10] Yep.
Wailin: [00:35:10] And I don’t know—like, to this day, I don’t know how they did it because it’s like, don’t they just make a big tub of tuna salad at the beginning of the day? But I guess not. I guess they’re just making it to order.
Shaun: [00:35:20] No, each one is like, made to order. It’s the best restaurant. I miss that place so much.
Wailin: [00:35:25] I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to get a tuna salad sandwich without celery unless I make it myself.
Shaun: [00:35:33] I know it.
Wailin: [00:35:32] You know what I mean?
Shaun: [00:35:33] I know it.
Wailin: [00:35:35] [Sighs]. We are on Twitter at rework—okay.
Shaun: [00:35:42] We’re changing the name of the show to [sigh].
Wailin: [00:35:46] To Heavy Sigh.
Shaun: [00:35:47] Yeah.