Bill Jacobs, owner of Piece Pizzeria & Brewery in Bucktown, visited Midtown to share his 32-year history of perseverance, success, teamwork and passion in the Chicago restaurant industry with the high school program.
Every company has to start somewhere, he told the students. And, for the Jacob's brothers that was in a one-bedroom apartment above their bagel shop. The Jacobs parents took out a loan on their house in order to send him and his brothers to Chicago to pursue their dream of owning a bagel shop. But, after 16 years, the market took a turn the brothers sold their franchise to open Piece Pizza.
Today, Piece is the highest grossing pizzeria in the Midwest and was named best independent pizzeria in the nation in 2011.
The Jacobs parents had an important role to play in the start of the business: they believed in the brothers, and without the loan, they never could have never started Piece. That initial vote of confidence, combined with the brother's own loyalty, tenacity, and passion for good ingredients created a recipe for success.
After telling his story, Jacobs gave the students some practical business advice.
Jacobs taught the boys about capital and pitching a business idea to investors. He warned the students of the risks of opening a restaurant, but was optimistic and spoke highly of his initial investors, "It makes me happy every time I get to send checks to them-that they believed in Piece in the beginning and still make money today is fabulous."
He encouraged the boys to "take care of your people and put them before yourself." When asked if Piece would ever franchise, Jacobs recalled the days of their bagel shops, "I didn't know my employees or customers at the other locations, and I didn't like that." He has employees who have been with Piece for 14 years, since the beginning.
He also emphasized the importance of community. Although a business needs profit to survive, Jacobs helped the students understand the value of giving back, and putting your team first. "We always did a lot of great things for our community and that's always been a huge part of who we are," Jacobs offered as he shared stories about new pizza collaborations with Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Hot Dougs that will benefit Pilot Light, a non-profit in Chicago.
It was a helpful story for the Midtown boys to hear, as they work with their own families and mentors to achieve their goals and gain experiences that will direct them on their own paths of success.