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"DBE: O'Brien's in trouble over O'Hare eatery"


 
Sunday, July 10, 2005

O'Brien's in trouble over O'Hare eatery 
BY FRAN SPIELMAN 
The Chicago (IL) Sun Times


The clout-heavy O'Brien family, owners of a legendary Old Town restaurant,
could lose a lucrative concession at O'Hare Airport, now that City Hall has
denied certification to its female partner. 

Acting Chief Procurement Officer Mary Dempsey is accusing longtime O'Brien
family employee Jennifer Tremblay of participating in the airport restaurant
partnership "in name only," meaning she was little more than a front.

Dempsey's refusal to "re-certify" Tremblay as a so-called disadvantaged
business enterprise leaves O'Brien's without the minority partner it needs
to continue doing business at O'Hare.

"We're obviously disappointed. That's about all I can say," said Tremblay's
attorney, Timothy Ray, who said he had not seen the city's denial or the
justification for it.

Business' controversial record

Peter O'Brien, whose family owns O'Brien's Restaurant, 1528 N. Wells, and
other properties in Old Town, could not be reached for comment. He is the
brother of the late Cook County Commissioner Daniel O'Brien. Family
patriarch Daniel O'Brien Sr. has been a heavy campaign contributor and a
political player in Chicago for decades.

It'll be up to Aviation Commissioner John Roberson to determine whether to
give O'Brien's another chance or shut down an O'Hare restaurant that, City
Hall sources said, raked in $9 million in gross receipts from the time it
opened in the summer of 2001 through Dec. 31, 2004. 

Given O'Brien's controversial record, it's not at all certain the company
will get a second chance.

According to the certification file released to the Chicago Sun-Times in
response to a Freedom-of-Information request, O'Brien's first minority
partner at O'Hare, Felix Morales, died in July 2004, but Peter O'Brien
waited six months to notify City Hall.

Like Tremblay, Morales was a longtime employee of the O'Brien family whose
company, Camino Latino, was certified as a DBE in October 2000 for the sole
purpose of becoming O'Brien's 30 percent partner in the O'Hare joint
venture.

On Dec. 28, before coming clean with the city about Morales' death, an
O'Brien-controlled company known as MADO Management bought the assets of
Camino Latino from Morales' estate for $25,000, records show.

In late January, Roberson gave O'Brien 45 days to find a replacement for
Morales. O'Brien responded by arranging for another $25,000 sale of Camino
Latino stock -- from MADO Management to Tremblay. The sale was executed on
March 21. The next day, Tremblay filed an application with the Department of
Procurement Services for certification as a DBE.

Tremblay has admitted that, at the time of the sale, she didn't have the
$25,000 in her personal account to consummate the transaction. 

As a result, Tremblay told city investigators, Peter O'Brien "held" her
check, but did not cash it until May 27, after Tremblay borrowed money from
a 401(k). 

That's not the only part of the transaction that sounds fishy to City Hall.

The agreement also requires that Tremblay sell all of her shares back to
MADO at the same price if her application for DBE certification is denied,
if she gets certification and subsequently loses it or in the event of her
death. And it prohibits Tremblay from transferring shares in the company
without prior notification to MADO. 

Leased Jetta for $1

Equally troubling to the city was that Tremblay did not negotiate the
purchase price, plans no hirings and openly acknowledged she doesn't have a
business plan. She also plans to continue as a full-time employee of MADO --
as assistant vice president for restaurant management -- and spend just 10
to 15 hours a week on Camino Latino. That raises questions about what, if
any, contribution she would be making to the O'Hare joint-venture, City Hall
contends. 

Finally, Tremblay leased a Volkswagen Jetta from MADO for $1. When city
investigators questioned her about the lease, "Tremblay became upset and had
to take a recess to confer with her attorney," the city's final report
states.

"In sum, there is overwhelming evidence that Camino Latino is owned by
Tremblay in name only," said the so-called factual findings and conclusions
attached to Dempsey's letter to Tremblay on Friday, denying DBE
certification.


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