Why not? This simple question has been the driving force for business partners Peter Zonis and David Jacobs. It is the powerful question that has allowed these two to transition from the cut throat world of ticket brokers into the even more vicious realm of restaurateurs without too much trepidation. It is the query that has continued to serve as the catalyst for a now expanding empire in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.
Today, Zonis and Jacobs have combined forces to open a much revered gourmet burger joint, Lockdown Bar and Grill, on Western Avenue and, recently, a late-night hot dog stand, Phil’s Last Stand, nearby on Chicago Avenue.
A little more than a decade ago, this attitude inspired the business men, who grew up together and whose families were close friends, to make the jump from a 15-year stint moving wholesale tickets to major sports, music, and theatrical events to the burgeoning world of ecommerce. In 2002 they began OnlineSeats.com, a secondary ticket broker, despite having little to no experience in online retail.
They learned quickly and the skills and drive that helped them rise from a couple of teenage kids standing in line to purchase tickets for resale to significantly bigger movers and shakers on the wholesale front served them well. At its height, the company grew to employ 35 people.
A chance visit to India (another “Why Not?” decision) led to these two landing on the cutting edge of technology and the secondary ticket market. There Zonis and Jacobs developed an amicable business relationship with a search engine optimization and web expert, one that has grown into a true friendship. With his help OnlineSeats.com, and its sister sites, TheSeats.com and TicketSpecialists.com, became early adopters of outsourcing much of its technical and SEO services.
India not only sparked a new approach to business, but put the Chicago business partners in touch with a humanitarian mission. Jacobs was fortunate to have met the Dalai Lama on the first visit, but it was on a follow-up trip that Zonis and Jacob’s met a family struggling to survive on the streets of Mumbai and this had an even bigger effect. In that family of six, a mother and her five daughters, they saw something special.
“We helped them go from living on the streets to living in an apartment,” said Zonis. “The two youngest girls are going on seven years in school thanks to our support and their drive.”
Seven years after that inspiring trip to India, OnlineSeats.com, LLC and its family of web properties had a suitor. Zonis and Jacobs chose to sell the ecommerce business. This put an end to the business partners’ and, by then friends’, time in the ticket business, a business Zonis had spent half his life in and Jacobs had spent two-thirds.
In the middle of the sale negotiations the two had embarked on one of their customary excursions on the Chicago restaurant scene, as Jacobs was a foodie. That night, Zonis had an idea.
“He turned to me and, with no previous food industry experience, he said ‘Metal, burgers and booze. We can do this!’” said Jacobs. “I was not as sure as he was.”
Zonis already had a spot in mind, a building the two had purchased on Western Avenue a couple blocks up from Augusta Boulevard. It had been an office, but at the time of this idea had become Jacobs’ home (OnlineSeats had moved its operations to a building in Logan Square). With the closing of the sale of their web properties, Zonis began planning the renovation of their terrestrial ones. He took care of the arduous task of obtaining building permits and a liquor license for the restaurant while Jacobs helped with the transition of OnlineSeats to its new owners.
Lockdown Bar and Grill has been just as much a success. It has been open for three and a half years and has been featured on Chicago’s Best, NBC 1st Look, and has been voted “Best Burger” in Chicago by multiple media outlets. Zonis works the front of the house as an energetic host and Jacobs works on social media and marketing.
As the two sought advice when beginning in ecommerce, the two relied on advice when beginning a new life as restaurateurs. This time they did not need to travel half way across the world. Instead they called upon some old family friends, Phil Ashbach and his son Sol.
Phil Ashach actually introduced Jacobs to the ticket industry at the age of 12, but he also ran a hot dog stand in Skokie in the 1970s. Zonis and Jacobs convinced him to come out of retirement and help setup and run a late night hot dog stand, Phil’s Last Stand, located on Chicago Avenue less than half a mile from the bar and grill.
“His guidance gave this stand life, especially when it came to his menu ideas” said Zonis. “His large personality, a.k.a. Chicago Fat Phil, gave David (Jacobs) all he needed to create a marketing plan and a web presence.”
In a year and a half, Phil’s Last Stand has also been featured on Chicago’s Best and NBC First Look, as well as on 190 N and a pilot for a new Travel Channel show.
Sol Ashbach is the general manager of Lockdown. He moved back to Chicago from Washington State three years ago and has been helping the restaurant operate smoothly. His addition to the staff at the bar and grill has allowed Zonis to concentrate on running the front of the house and to scout new locations for a second location.
The two young entrepreneurs are actively looking for locations in Chicagoland to open up a second bar and grill and a second late night hot dog stand, with intent to expand the food empire beyond the Ukrainian Village.
Furthermore, the two are returning to the secondary ticket industry. They have recently purchased CoasttoCoastTickets.com, and are working just as hard as they are to the restaurant game to revive a once big player in the secondary ticket market. These newest developments and ventures may seem a bit excessive and to present too challenging a workload but to this Zonis and Jacobs have a simple response, “Why not?”