This full page picture of Rockit Ranch Partners, Billy Dec, Brad Young and Arturo Gomez, is part of a huge feature this Summer in Michigan Avenue Magazine celebrating their 10 Year Anniversary and how they led the creation of the coolest and most booming entertainment district in Chicago, which essentially means, in the world.
“When Billy Dec decided to open Rockit Ranch Productions 10 years ago with his partners Brad Young and Arturo Gomez, they tried to find something “as close as you could get to the Gold Coast without having to pay expensive rent,” Dec says. But they also wanted something distinctly different from the “sleek Euro nightclub feel” of the Viagra Triangle. While River North’s proximity to the Gold Coast, the Loop, public transit, and expressways made the area attractive, it was the sheer square footage available that made River North ideal for creative types who were trying to find unique spaces with high ceilings and lots of light. The trio found the space they were looking for in a former lamp factory on Hubbard Street, with a 75–foot skylight and unobstructed views. “Architecturally, it doesn’t get better than this,” says Dec, about the building that houses Rockit Bar & Grill.
While other restaurants and nightclubs have populated the district over the years, they were mostly one-offs. It wasn’t until Rockit Bar & Grill opened on Hubbard Street in 2004 that other restaurants took advantage of the attention it created and opened nearby, creating what today is a two-block strip of wall-to-wall restaurants. “We had trouble getting a cab those first two years,” says Dec, but the team hosted celebrity parties with partners like GQ magazine and the Black Eyed Peas “before they were big” to attract people. “And once people came out,” Dec says, “they realized the cab fare was the same as to the Gold Coast or somewhere else.”
Then Rockit focused its attention one block north to Illinois Street—opening The Underground at 56 West Illinois in 2006 (voted No. 1 nightclub in the country by Nightclub & Bar magazine in 2008), and Sunda at 110 West Illinois three years later. This ushered in the development of what is now another thriving restaurant strip on Illinois.
What they’ve done: Anchored River North as an entertainment district with the development of their trifecta of hot spots – Rockit Bar & Grill, Sunda New Asian, and The Underground nightclub – with a fourth River North venue opening this summer, Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ at 441 N Clark St., which will offer American-Asian barbecue alongside custom-distilled spirits.
Rule Breakers: Ten years ago, “There wasn’t anyone doing Kobe burgers or truffle fries,” says Dec of the vision behind Rockit Bar & Grill. “And no one was playing rock unless you were a college or sports bar. We saw the void in the middle-the highest quality of food presentation with a comfortable, cool atmosphere.” Says Young: “There really wasn’t anything like it in the city at the time, so we had a solid three years before the copycats started coming out of the woodwork. Some have come and gone, but we have stuck to our own game.”
A Perfect 10: As they celebrate their 10th Anniversary this summer, the trio is looking toward the future. “We are just really excited to launch our second decade,” says Gomez. “There are companies that have had 20, even 40 years in the industry to build, so after seeing how much we have learned, we just feel ready to blaze new trails.” Just don’t expect an anniversary bash: “When it comes to our own personal celebration, we’ll probably get the most joy out of just thanking our teams, our families for letting us be workaholics, and one another for total commitment to helping this dream come true,” says Dec.”