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Dollars and cents as an accountant stopped making sense for Mark Robertson in 2014. So, he ditched his position in finance for a career path that he thought would provide more excitement and entered the world of hospitality as a tavern group owner. Together with Mike Sullivan, Mark’s husband, 2Bears Tavern Group in Chicago was born.

They opened their first bar together in 2010 and made their second purchase of a bar in 2011. For several years, Mark and Mike worked in their CPA and legal careers by day and spent nights and weekends working in the bar business to build the foundation from which they created their new professional journey. Today, 2Bears Tavern Group owns and operates 4 LGBTQIA+ focused establishments in Chicago: The SoFo Tap, Meeting House Tavern, 2Bears Tavern Uptown, and Jackhammer.

“We’re creating an environment where the LGBTQIA+ community can feel safe and they can get away from the things outside of the tavern that might be less fun about life,” Mark said.

2Bears Tavern Group is driven by a commitment to customer respect, placing it at the center of all decision-making. Recognizing that their guests are looking for a fun and stimulating place to unwind, they also want to provide an environment that is free of judgment and filled with a spirit of acceptance.

“This is the place where people come to be themselves, feel who they are, find out that there are other people like them in the world, and in fact, meet friends. So, a lot of people move to Chicago from other states, other cities that might not have the kind of robust LGBTQIA+ community that we do here in Chicago. And a lot of our spaces provide folks the first time they’ve ever walked into a space and felt like they belonged,” Mark stressed.

Each establishment in the 2Bears Tavern Group has its own unique theme, but they are all friendly and energetic environments. We spent an evening with Mark at 2Bears Tavern Uptown where customers could be seen playing darts and pinball.

Mark and Mike understand that a commitment to the community is paramount to continued success. So, 2Bears Tavern Group actively supports neighborhood nonprofits, social groups, educational organizations, sports leagues and community arts.

Launching a new retail business is not always easy.  Mike and Mark needed support, advice, and direction as 2Bears Tavern Group established itself. Mark says he often seeks out the support of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA).

“IRMA has actually been instrumental in helping us understand new regulations, understand opportunities in the marketplace, helping us problem-solve. We’re a small company. We’re not huge, but IRMA gives us the ability to understand things in the way that a large company might,” said Mark.

“Technology has made us evolve. People still want to meet in real life. I mean, if COVID taught us anything, it’s that total isolation is not good for any of us,” Mark says. “Even the person who fancies himself an introvert, there are times they’re going to want to get out and actually meet people in real life. So, it hasn’t cut into the business. It’s just changed how the business operates.”

Mark and Mike say their team is a key to their success, and so they stress their employees are treated like family.

“Employees who come to 2Bears Tavern Group are coming here because we offer a very cohesive benefits and income package, but also because they get to work in a place where you can be yourself 24-7,” explains Mark. “And that’s not necessarily the case everywhere because in a lot of employment situations, you don’t know who’s sitting in the next office or at the next desk. So, you might not be able to be as open and honest about who you truly are in those environments, but here you can be.”

“If I could give one piece of advice to a new retailer, be ready to change. And be ready to change fast. If you’re not ready to change as a retailer, you will get passed up not in years, but in weeks and months. The consumer is looking for what the consumer wants when the consumer wants it, and you need to be in a position to be able to anticipate that and change on a dime,” Mark said.

With a sharp eye on both how his business operates, serving his customers and the community, Mark summed up why he’s committed his heart and soul to this business.

“2Bears Tavern Group matters because we are providing those safe spaces, safe spaces for the LGBTQ community who is regularly facing discrimination, facing hate, even facing violence in some places. And we provide an island in the stream for our community.”

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