23 Questions with Curtis Tarver II

Curtis Tarver, II is one half of the founding team of highly  anticipated South loop brewery Vice District. He  sat down with SociaLifeChicago to answer 23 Questions. From why they chose the name to his definition of success and influences.
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1) What is the story behind the name Vice?
Curtis Tarver: What we now call the South Loop, was at one point Motor Row and  before that it was the Vice District. The Vice District at the time were pretty much red light districts.  Chicago has always been a hub for transportation, so people used to get off the train at 8th and Dearborn and they would go and fill their vices, whatever they may be. There were women for sale, brothels, there was opium and alcohol during the prohibition so that’s what the Vice District was.  There’s a negative connotation to it in many regards, but for us, one of the good things was people congregated there, it was a very communal  place to be so we wanted to play on that aspect and  give a nod to the history of the neighborhood.  We won’t be selling women or opium but we will be selling beer but that’s not prohibited.  The logo for VICE which is a badge with four stars for the city of Chicago but all of these things happen under the watchful eyes of the law so we wanted to nod to that as well so we chose the badge as the emblem.

2) Why is the South Loop a good area for opening a new business?

C T II: A few things:  The north side is incredibly saturated I think the south side of Chicago is often times more forgotten. There’s a good amount of racial diversity here as well so it just kind of makes sense and there isn’t a similar concept in the south loop presently there will be one further down the road but it’s not a very similar concept here. People have beer all over the city people and they like to hang out and have a beer all over the city.

3. What is your definition of success?
C T II: Being true to who you are first and foremost. I don’t define success as a ton of money you can have a ton of money and be a jerk so to me being successful is being true to yourself, really treating others the way you want to be treated and leaving more than you take no matter what it is.  Always trying to find a way to pay it forward because quite frankly, nobody is going to become successful whatever their definition of success is without somebody else.

4Where did you get your start?
C T II: I’m originally from Chicago and I went to Iowa State for undergrad and the University of Iowa for Law School. I went to law school knowing that I wanted to practice and I wanted to have my own firm someday. I worked at large law firm for a about a year or so and left there to work for Mayor Daley for a couple of years. Following that, I took a different position with the city as the director of departmental affairs. I left there and decided to start a law firm with a good friend of mine, Saulter Tarver, LLP and we still have the law firm, I’m scaling my practice back somewhat because of the brewery. Our focus with the law firm is on small to mid-sized businesses and non-profits. I have been married almost six years and I have a 1+ year-old daughter.
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5. Why do you think Vice will be a unique place for people to hang out?
C T II: I think it will be unique in the sense that it will be communal and have a communal feel. Everything we are doing is with a communal feel in mind. It’s not a place with a ton of tables for two, it’s not a place you go for a candlelight dinner. It certainly somewhere if you were from out of town or from around the corner you’ll feel comfortable falling into place meeting good folks and having a conversation. We believe our customer service is going to be top notch, we really believe that, and I think we are bringing a new perspective quite frankly.

6. Do you have any plans for the grand opening?
C T II: We’re scheduled to open August 22. We will have a couple soft openings leading up to it. The space is going to hold about 99 people so it’s a small, quaint neighborhood space. During those soft openings we’ll probably do free tastings and sell growlers.

7. If you had to choose a place to spend a Saturday night in Chicago where would you go and why?

C T II: I would say Untitled in River North, it is a whiskey bar, super cool place. It’s very, very low key like there is literally no name on the door you could walk past it and have no idea but it has a speakeasy theme, great vibe, with long communal tables no less.

8. How long have you been planning to open Vice District Brewing?

C T II: We (my business partner Quintin Cole and I) started working on our business plan in December 2012, and we started looking for spaces pretty much immediately. Because we needed 14-16 foot ceilings we wrote our business plan specifically for the South Loop so we didn’t have very many alternatives if this didn’t work out. It took us a while to find the right location, we had gone through a few deals that went south with landlords but we eventually found the perfect space located at 1454 S. Michigan Avenue

9. How has the role of online and social media played a part in your business plan?
C T II: It’s huge because there are only so many people that drive up and town or walk past the location. So how does everybody else find out about us? How do people who are coming to Chicago and staying at McCormick or Hilton know where to grab a beer? Social media, online media has been huge for us. Technology and social media will be very big for what we do.

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10. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
C T II: Life is fair but you just don’t like when it’s your turn. And it’s the truth people care a lot less about individuals who are homeless than they would if they were homeless this is the reality, right. A good friend of mine gave me that advice, who is also an investor his name is Sheldon Smith.

11. Is there going to be anything Chicago signature at Vice?

C T II: We will not be serving food, but there are 63 places that will deliver and food trucks in the area so we are going to try to partner with them. We’ll have 10 of our own beers and we’ll do collaborations with other breweries that are in Chicago and other places as well.

12. What are your hobbies?
C T II: My biggest hobby right now is truly spending time with my daughter. I’m off every Wednesday from my law practice and the brewery so every Wednesday is daddy daughter day. I’ve been doing it for a year now and I don’t plan on stopping until she has to go to school. I like snowboarding a lot and a lot of my spare time is being involved with non-profits.

13. Did anything from your childhood influence you going into business?

C T II: I saw both of my parents struggle after they divorced and I knew when I went to law school and opened a firm that even if I didn’t make a billion dollars a year I would have time to spend with my family and my daughter.

14. Where do you see yourself in five years?

C T II: I see myself still practicing law and with the brewery. I have a passion for both and I don’t want to choose between the two. I see myself with probably two more kids and I see myself in Chicago and still very involved with non-profits.

15. What is best way to spend a summer day in Chicago?

C T II: I live a block off of lakeshore so to me whether you are running, biking, laying in the grass or just being somewhere on or by the lake, there is something very tranquil and amazing about it. I think the lakefront of Chicago is just one of the most unique aspects of the city.

16. What would you say to someone considering a move to Chicago?
C T II: Do it! Here is the thing, when I worked for the mayor’s office, my job was to work with all 50 alderman so I got to know pretty much every corner of the city and there is a corner of the city for absolutely everyone. My first advice is come in the summer there are tons of festivals you don’t have to spend a ton of money, but you’re going to spend some money to live here. The city is so accessible through public transportation, too.

17. Are there any current businesses that have influenced the creativity behind Vice?

C T II: We go to a ton of places we’ve been from here to Indiana to Michigan to Oregon, Florida, North Carolina, we’ve been quite a few places. We try to take something from everywhere we visit. The best vibe is Greenbush in Sawyer Michigan, we drive at least an hour to go check it out once a month because the vibe is just that phenomenal.

18. What is your personal favorite restaurant in Chicago?
C T II: Carmichael’s in the West loop. It’s a steakhouse and I think they have the best steaks in Chicago, they also have this pie in a paper bag it literally comes in a paper bag. And they have a shuttle to the Bull’s games which is great for us since we have season tickets.

19. What word or phrase describes the vibe or tone you want Vice to encompass?
C T II: Our internal motto is come as guests leave as friends that is exactly what we are shooting for. We want to be a neighborhood staple and regional draw. You want people in general in any business to be comfortable.

20. After going through the process of opening a business what would your advice be to someone who comes to you with an idea and wants to know how to get it off the ground?
C T II: The first advice I would give people not because I am a lawyer but because I think it is absolutely true – find a lawyer and an accountant. Find someone to help you with your business plan because if you want to raise any kind of money from an investor or a bank they are going to have a lot of questions and you want to be able to answer as many of those up front as you can.

21. What book has impacted you? 
C T II: I would say Blue Ocean Strategy which someone recommended to me and The Power of Habit.

22. What do you think you guys did right to make the process from idea to construction within about 18 months?
C T II: One hell of a business plan. We wrote a business plan and submitted it to a business consultant who is a great friend of mine. He ripped it apart and had us go back to the basics so we had a solid business plan to execute.

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23. Who is your role model and why?

CT III: Honestly, I  would say right now, it’s my daughter ,which sounds weird but there is something amazing about children in that they have no insecurities or biases and they continue to try tofigure things out. There is no obstacle that makes her not want to try, like when she was learning to walk, when she falls she gets back up. I think children remind me of what we all should aspire to be.

Vice Brewing District is located at 1454 S. Michigan Avenue. Opening date is scheduled for Aug. 22 You can keep up with them on twitter @Vice_District

*Images: Emmalee Luckas/SociaLifeChicago

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