Some would say that drawing attention to oneself when it comes to charitable acts sullies the very act of generosity in the first place, demeaning it to the realm of “look at me” attention seeking.  While there’s an altruistic component to anonymous giving, there’s also something about the contagious spirit of giving, the inspiration that comes from seeing others doing good things.

And sometimes, leading by example is the best way to lead.  The Bottleneck family deserves to know and appreciate what this company and many of its members stand for and, “look at me” notions aside, at the very least feel pride Bottleneck blogin being part of an organization that embodies such a generous spirit, from ownership on down.  It’s about knowing who we are.

So, I’ll say it – Bottleneck is a wonderfully charitable company in its own way.  The modest but frequent donations we make to such charities as the Red Cross, A Silver Lining Foundation, The Cabrini Connection and countless others is certainly noteworthy.  But it’s the endeavors where personal involvement exists that show the true nature of our generous spirit…

  • A complimentary pasta dinner for Marines returning from war at the Boundary
  • An owner and our top chefs mentoring aspiring back of house workers at Inspiration Kitchens
  • Selling pink drinks company-wide for the Lynn Sage Foundation during breast cancer awareness month
  • Partnering with the Friends of the Chicago River on South Branch’s Derby Day to raise funds for our urban waterway
  • Offering free lunches to families of the Ronald McDonald House during pre-opening training at Howells & Hood
  • Having several managers throughout the company participate in Hug Chicago
  • Old Town Pour House bartenders donating a shift’s worth of tips, which was matched by the company, to the Greater Chicago Food Depository
  • Helping the Steep Theater Company with their annual fundraiser, many years running, which is a talented group of actors co-founded by a former Trace bartender

Those are a few examples that aren’t simply about handing out money.  This is involvement that takes time, forethought and effort.  It takes heart.

And when it comes to charity, there may not be a bigger heart in the company than Sweetwater manager, Angela Hiland.  She spearheaded a recent Christmas toy drive at her store, which was a huge success.  Her charity of choice was Pro Labore Dei, which she learned about from one of her bartenders, Kevin Blake.  Toy drive 1 It turns out his father volunteers for the charity and, because Angela was searching for someone to drum up a toy drive for, it was a perfect fit.  Pro Labore Dei holds a toy drive every holiday season and gifts are handed directly to Chicago kids in need, so it had a personal and local feel.

Her concept, which was approved, implemented and marketed by Bottleneck, was to offer guests a 15% discount off their bill if they brought a toy to Sweetwater.  Employees, both internally and across the company, also received a larger-than-normal discount to do the same.  The Christmas decorated toy bin was stuffed by the due date of December 20th and all the while her staff was energized, her fellow managers and GM were inspired, and guests were jumping at the chance to be a part of it.  One regular, after finding out about the effort from his server, left and came back with six toys.  Chances are good his discount was far less than the cost of six toys, but he was excited to be a part of it.  There’s that contagious spirit.

When the toys were finally delivered to children on Chicago’s south side, the organizer of Pro Labore Dei’s toy drive said that more kids showed up than they anticipated.  She said that if it weren’t for Angela’s and Sweetwater’s efforts, there would’ve been children leaving without gifts. toy drive 12 The emails and texts between Sweetwater managers, based on the success of their toy drive, were virtual high fives and touchdown dances.  They were all genuinely pumped and excited.  Angela and the rest of the managers had nothing to gain from this, and yet they celebrated like they won the Super Bowl.  There’s the leading by example.

Angela’s passion for charity comes from the generosity that was instilled by her parents.  Ange Hiland w dadWhen she says things like “everyone should have something to open on Christmas,” you believe it.  There’s not an ounce of disingenuous cheesiness in the statement.  When she says things like, “I want Sweetwater to conduct a Christmas toy drive,” you better believe it’ll be a home run.  She’s volunteered at soup kitchens, been in mentoring programs for the homeless, helped clean up Wicker Park trash, and signs up for every charity run she can, even though she hates running.  She finds it rewarding to “give back,” even though it’s not like she takes high tea with the Queen regularly.  The point is, she embodies the heart and soul of what Bottleneck does in regards to charity, which is also our approach to hospitality – embrace the joy and humility of giving happiness to others.  The fact that her efforts are supported and enhanced by the company she works with tells a symbiotic story of fit – she has a home that speaks to and supports her passions to enrich, enliven and give.

~Bart Vivian

Director of Operations