Bill Jacobs on the peace at Piece
August 30th, 2016
Researchers at McKinsey and Co., the global consulting firm, say higher wages aren’t the answer to keeping employees happy.
Bill Jacobs, the founder and CEO of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, could have told them that.
“It’s about treating people with dignity and respect” and a “great environment,” says the Chicago entrepreneur. Jacobs is an easy-going, Frisbee-playing, Cubs-loving, dog doter who’s also passionate about running a good business.
He just put out his own bit of data on employee retention. It’s a video showcasing how long some of his 130 staffers have worked at the company. There have been lots of 10-year anniversaries and at least six have worked for Jacobs since 2001. “In this business, we’re an anomaly,” he concedes.
Jacobs uses “team,” “compassion” and “empowerment” when he talks business. And btw, employees get free yoga at Zen Yoga Garage on Milwaukee Avenue.
The Chicago restaurateur grew up in New Haven, Conn., one of four brothers. Their dad is a lawyer and mom was a nurse before helping manage the law office. Jacobs was a teen-ager when he decided to make a career in the food industry.
Jacobs, inspired by the food at Sally’s Apizza in New Haven, recalls once nearly setting his family’s kitchen on fire.
At Boston University, where he studied history, Jacobs discovered great bagels in nearby Brookline and a business idea was born.
When brother Andy visited Chicago with a friend, Tony Weisman, and saw how the city was “bereft of bagels,” they decided to set up shop.
Jacobs Bros. Bagels opened in 1983, and brother Pete joined a year later. The fourth brother lives in New Haven.
The bagel store grew to 20 shops, and in 1999, the brothers sold it. Three years later, Bill Jacobs opened Piece, which pays homage to the pie of his youth (thin crust, fresh ingredients) and serves award-winning beer.
It’s become a Wicker Park–and Chicago–staple, as has Jacobs.
Weisman, now the North American CEO of DigitasLBi, calls his friend “perpetually upbeat and optimistic. He makes people feel good and welcome. It’s in his core.”
Jacobs’ passions go beyond food. He loves the Bears, Bulls, Hawks, yoga, running and cycling. He also helped build the Ultimate Chicago Frisbee league.
And of course, there’s, Liza, an Airedale Terrier with an easy-going temperament that matches her master. They are daily visitors to Wiggly Field–the dog park at Lincoln Park’s Noethling Playlot.
“It’s a gathering place for people and dogs, a place to escape from the usual,” he says during a recent visit.
You can find him there most every morning. As an unofficial caretaker, he makes sure there are plenty of doggie bags on hand. And when pet owners don’t pick up after their pooches, Jacobs says, “I call them out to pick it up.” Always with respect.