It all started when two friends from Illinois Wesleyan University decided to leave their respective careers to pursue a passion to become self-employed entrepreneurs. Jason Akemann and Nathan Hilding opened Trace, a two-story storefront tavern in Chicago’s Wrigleyville, in the spring of 2001.
Doing much of the aesthetic finishes themselves, and with the help of ever-supportive friends and family, they opened just in time for the start of the Chicago Cubs baseball season.
In 2007, Jason and Nate brought on a third partner, and another classmate from IWU, Chris Bisaillon. With the addition of Chris to the partnership, Bottleneck’s expansion plans began to take root. In September of 2007, the three partners opened The Boundary in the Wicker Park neighborhood.
In September 2009, following The Boundary’s success, the group opened Sweetwater Tavern and Grille, located on Chicago’s historic Michigan Avenue, within easy reach of Millennium Park.
Jason, Nate, and Chris had always been driven by opportunity rather than a timetable, and another great location came onto their radar in the Loop district. South Branch sits along the south branch of the Chicago River and opened in March of 2011.
In March 2012, Corporate Executive Chef Paul Katz came on board with the opening of Old Town Pour House in the Old Town neighborhood in Chicago. Chef Katz elevated the culinary program at this location with a unique and refined approach to American classics, executing each dish with original flavors. This stunning space took on a life of its own very quickly while housing what was the largest craft beer selection on draft in the entire city of Chicago (90 tap handles).
90 tap handles were trumped not by a competitor, but by a brand new Bottleneck location. Howells & Hood opened in March 2013, on the ground floor of the iconic and breathtaking Tribune Tower. One would be hard-pressed to find a more upbeat and vibrant location on the Magnificent Mile. The culinary program was complemented by 119 unique local and global beers on draft, making it the largest draft selection in the city, and likely, the world.
The Crown, nestled within the flying buttresses of the Tribune Tower’s 25th floor, opened for private events in 2013, shortly after Howells & Hood made its Chicago debut. The Crown quickly became the most impressive private event space in the city. Offering 360-degree skyline views, an indoor lounge, and a private outdoor veranda, The Crown was perfect for cocktail receptions, weddings, and events for up to 100 people. The Crown and Howells & Hood were bought by a private developer who converted many floors of the Tribune Tower into multi-million dollar condos.
The first restaurant outside of Chicago city limits and their first expansion of the original Old Town Pour House brand came in the fall of 2013. The new location opened in Oak Brook, Illinois in November 2013. Like its sister location, Old Town Pour House, Oak Brook houses 90 local and global beers on draft, craft cocktails, and Modern American cuisine made from scratch.
In March 2015, the Pour House brand made the move outside of Illinois with Old Town Pour House, Gaithersburg opening in the Downtown Crown development in Gaithersburg, MD. The 7,966 sq. ft. inside dining/bar area and 1,511 sq. ft. outdoor patio made a bold statement as the eighth Bottleneck Management location.
The new year saw the development of a new brand for the Bottleneck portfolio. “City Works Eatery & Pour House” opened its first location in March 2016, in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. With 10,000 sq. ft. of floorspace, City Works MPLS was similar to Old Town Pour House, but with more of a focus on local craft breweries, highlighting the best from the surrounding region. There’s also a spotlight on the concept’s impressive audio/visual component, making the restaurant an ideal destination for watching sports. When there’s not a big game on, the modern music selection is accompanied by music videos and a remarkable synchronization of the HD flat-screen displays, transforming the video walls into an artistic tapestry. The food menu has been thoughtfully curated to highlight the “best of Bottleneck,” allowing the stars to shine.
July 2016 saw a return to the local dining scene with the fourth Old Town Pour House location opening in Naperville, IL. With our popular copper-inlaid bars and tables, custom-milled dark woodwork, and high ceilings, Old Town Pour House, Naperville retains the familiar look and feel of the concept but also presents our first circular bar area, and a unique patio design with permanent heating and a four-sided fireplace to extend the alfresco season.
City Works, KOP opened as part of the brand new Town Center development in King of Prussia, PA in December 2016. Just 40 minutes from the center of Philadelphia and a 5-minute drive from the second largest mall in the US, this restaurant continues the strong focus on local craft beer and a modern American food menu with brilliant twists. The building is Bottleneck’s first stand-alone unit, built specifically for us, with 8,000 sq. ft. and a mezzanine for additional storage and cooler space.
2017 got off to a frantic start, with two restaurants opening just six days apart. The rapidly expanding portfolio challenged the Bottleneck team to rise to the occasion, bringing the group through another significant period. Firstly, City Works in Pittsburgh opened on the day of the downtown Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day celebration in March 2017. The downtown location in the iconic PPG Place on the south side of Market Square became a natural draw for the area’s residents and commuters.
The second March 2017 opening was City Works in Doral, a restaurant that was located in the City Place Doral entertainment complex just 12 miles west of Miami. With 217 seats inside and another 97 on the patio, this City Works had a great reception on opening weekend in a growing community.
Summer saw us begin our expansion into Texas, with City Works, Frisco opening in August 2017. A truly unique location, this City Works is part of The Star development, a joint project from The Dallas Cowboys and the City of Frisco which features The Ford Center – a full-time headquarters and practice facility for the NFL team, along with fields for the 11 local high schools to stage their sporting match-ups and a 12,000 seat stadium for championships, events, and concerts throughout the year. Our restaurant is in a prime location opposite the entrance to the center and the 300-room Omni hotel.
December 2017 brought another location in the North Texas market with City Works, Fort Worth. With 187 seats indoors and 104 on the patio, this site is a little smaller than some other projects but is a great match for the neighboring high-end boutique stores in the luxury Shops at Clearfork development by Simon Property Group.
Following Fort Worth, City Works built restaurants in the following locations (and we’ll write more about each when we have more time 😉):
- Orange Village, OH
- Tysons, VA
- Schaumburg, IL
- Wheeling, IL
- Vernon Hills, IL
- Disney Springs, FL (yes, Disney!)
- Watertown, MA
In the middle of that growth, Bottleneck took over the lease for The Wintergarden at PPG Place in Pittsburgh, a stunning and iconic private event venue. Numerous weddings, and corporate and social events are hosted there each year.
Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Bottleneck created two virtual brands to meet the needs of the growing carryout market. Secret Sauce Barbecue and Rebel’s Hot Chicken now operate out of most City Works and Old Town Pour House locations.
Always scouting and reviewing other potential locations for expansion, Bottleneck Management restaurant group is showing no signs of slowing down. The company’s growth over the past ten years has been tremendous and has been supported by a very talented team of industry professionals. The Bottleneck family looks forward to exploring a span of neighborhoods across the US, and being a part of each community throughout the journey.