Chrisisms: Paving your own way

By Chris Wachowiak

I have a friend who recently left his “reliable corporate job” a few weeks ago to venture out to start up a restaurant on his own terms. He has held a position in one fashion or another since they opened the doors in 1997. Josh Binning and I first met back then. I was a recent grad from Northern Illinois University, a miserable and horrible financial adviser who greatly enjoyed hanging out at Old Chicago. Believe it or not, that was a big part of the inspiration for starting Kryptonite almost four years later.

Josh remained working there, moving his way up the ranks to general manager, and at one time, managing partner in the business. Josh had a salary, which he could always predict, health insurance, a corporate backing for financing, operating procedures, lessons and trainings all from a corporate level. Including a budget set forth by someone else’s terms, and national ad buys for advertising. Add all that up, and you have a pretty big safety net, in business and in life.

Josh and I were on two close paths for more than a decade, watching and talking with one another about how our paths were different from the obstacles, the limitations and the general operations. We formed a friendship in which I believe at times we both looked at one another and wondered what it would be like in the other’s shoes. Josh is venturing out into a closer path near me.

Josh has done something that comes with a lot of thought, calculation, effort and strategy. He decided to open a new business in the Rockford area. He bought into a very small business from Colorado. In fact, this will be Lucha Cantina’s first franchise run. Now, granted, this offers some greater stability in business than a concept from scratch, such as: a tested food menu, drink menu, branding, marketing (to a degree), a theme for decorating, and, of course, some guidelines for operations. I say guidelines because this is Lucha Cantina’s venture out into new territory as well … literally.

In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed text messages with updates, and questions about navigating the path for a liquor license and how to expand constrained business hours for their location. This location some view as a brilliant location, and others as tough because another friend of mine couldn’t make it work there — now referred to as “where MashUp was.” This past Monday night, Josh just received his liquor license, with the same hours to operate as every other bar in this town, accompanied by a unanimous council vote (which means even Ald. Frank Beach said yes to a liquor vote, the second time I’ve ever heard him say yes to a liquor issue in 13 years).

Aug. 7, Josh plans to open Rockford’s first Lucha Cantina, a Mexican/American-style restaurant that promises to use only fresh ingredients and freshly-squeezed juice to attempt to claim a better margarita than we can make at Kryptonite. And now, Josh will forge his own path (with the support of his wife and child) of uncertainty and adventure.

The majority of those previous corporate backings, lessons, trainings and financial support just disappeared — along with the guaranteed paycheck. But what Josh has gained is his own opportunity to build something new, to create his own opportunity. That right there is the mark of an entrepreneur … this drive to build new upon the past, in your own fashion. I’m excited to see what Josh will do with his own playbook for this adventure, and I can’t wait to eat there as well!

Chris Wachowiak is owner of Kryptonite Bar, 308 W. State St., No. 110, Rockford. Read his blog at Do you know a 20-something who is doing something unique and should be recognized? E-mail Chris at and tell him who, why and how to contact them.

From the July 17-23, 2013, issue

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