Two Restaurant Vets Join Forces To Create Barkeep Collective

By Anthony Todd in Food on May 28, 2013 7:20PM

bkc zach stu bar_alain.jpg When two people put their heads together for a greater good, it breeds success, as evidenced by the dual brains behind Chicago’s new Barkeep Collective, a company adapting a fresh approach to restaurant and bar consulting. Stu Mitchell and Zach Friedlander are the men behind the operation, both drawing upon their extensive experience in the restaurant and bar industry to help other industry professionals with their services. And so it was upon a fateful meeting at a fateful time in their lives just a few months ago that the idea for Barkeep Collective was born.

Mitchell was previously a partner at Blue 13, amassing knowledge on all things marketing and public relations. When the restaurant shuttered, he saw a need for restaurant and bar consulting and began doing freelance consulting work. Then comes Friedlander, a mixologist with experience working at Maude’s Liquor Bar, Gilt Bar, and others. Upon chatting at Carriage House, where Friedlander currently works, the two realized they shared a vision and came up with the idea for a full-service consulting firm that would focus on educating staff about all things hospitality. The timing was perfect for both of them, as Friedlander had recently undergone carpal tunnel surgery due to years of wear-andt-ear making drinks, forcing him onto the sideline to focus more on consulting work. “My mind is still good, though, and I can teach others,” says Friedlander. And thus, within the span of a only a few months, the two came up with the concept for Barkeep Collective.

Barkeep Collective’s approach is much more hands-on, all-inclusive, and personal than most other consulting services. Both Mitchell and Friedlander are capitalizing on their experiences in the industry to educate others. Says Mitchell, “If I can’t use what I learned at Blue 13, it will be such a waste,” explaining that he learned the ins and outs of the restaurant business the hard way and he doesn’t want others to make the same mistakes. The dynamic duo aim to come in to restaurants and bars and educate their clients, building them up so that they can take care of themselves and their businesses.

The “collective” element means that Barkeep will contain a full roster of services, from photography and design to valet. A goal, according to Friedlander, is “to build lasting relationships with clients and show that there is longevity in this business. It doesn’t have to just be a college bartending gig, it can be a career.” The importance of educating staff ultimately leads to a happier staff, which is vital. “The biggest free marketing is people who love where they work,” says Friedlander, citing how dedicated restaurant staffers often hang out together outside of work.

While everything else fell into place rapidly and organically, the name and branding are what took the longest. They wanted something iconically Chicago, and couldn’t believe no one else had monopolized the Ferris wheel, so they managed to create a logo incorporating a Ferris wheel reminiscent of the Chicago World’s Fair. Although they’re open to expanding beyond Chicago, they ultimately wanted to create a brand that was distinctly Chicago, where the idea originated. Mitchell and Friedlander are currently in the meetings stage, building partnerships with people and preparing to launch. “This is an industry where it’s good to know who you know,” says Friedlander. Since Barkeep Collective’s services are manifold, they’re more than willing to be malleable in terms of what their focus might shift to. “We’re gonna let the market decide. We could wind up being a catering company or a PR firm,” says Mitchell. “We’re good at all of that.”

The website (http://barkeepcollective.com/) is still in the works, but inquiries can be made to zach@barkeepcollective.com or stu@barkeepcollective.com.

By Matt Kirouac