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This Pizza Hut U.S. employee does what many dream of but seldom do. She owns a neighborhood dive bar

Exterior of Sovereign Liquors

Published on March 04, 2020

It wasn’t planned.

But somehow, a quick stop for a few drinks and some friendly conversation at her local bar sparked a decades-long investment in an old school, neighborhood dive called Sovereign Liquors. It’s a side hustle that Janet Barton, director of E-Commerce Support Operations for Pizza Hut U.S., has been able to maintain for the past 20 years.

The bar, located on Chicago’s North Side in the Edgewater neighborhood, is co-owned by Barton, her husband, John Barton, and a third partner. Although Barton now works in IT for America’s favorite pizza chain in the U.S., back in 2000, she and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, were finishing up college and working as bartenders. After work one night, they stopped at Sovereign Liquors, their local hangout, and left with plans to take partial ownership of the bar after learning the previous owner had moved away. 

“We were young at the time,” Barton remembers. “My husband and I weren't even married yet, but one late night at the bar, we were like, ‘Oh yeah, we could do that.’"

They had both worked in restaurants but never owned a business. Still, the Bartons put together a plan to purchase a share in the bar and have been managing it ever since — all the while building successful full-time careers.

It would seem their love of food service, bartending and people all intersected at the little hometown bar.

“We get all walks of life, age ranges, different places in society,” Barton said. “It's kind of a melting pot; the area itself and the bar is definitely a microcosm of that. I've come to appreciate how many different types of people can come together and be friends because we’re all similar regardless of where we come from and what we do.”

This appreciation for people has helped Barton in her role at Pizza Hut where she was part of the Connect team that first introduced online ordering to restaurants throughout the U.S. “My experience in the restaurant and bar industry has given me a different perspective - always put the customer first. This is the same mindset I promote with my Pizza Hut team, ensuring we develop technology always with the customer in mind.”

In some ways, Sovereign Liquors has remained a constant in an area that’s constantly in flux. Located off the beaten path, bordering Rogers Park — one of the most diverse areas in the country — the bar hasn’t changed much over the years, from its neon sign on the outside to the vintage décor inside.

“When we first bought it, we wanted to remodel it, clean it up, change some things, but the regulars were infuriated. They're like, ‘No! You can't do that.’ So, it's just very endearing to the locals, you can't change a thing. It's got to stay the same,” Barton said, adding that they’ve since made some upgrades like throwing out the cigarette machine and adding an ATM as they’re cash only.

The bar attracts a dedicated cast of regulars, but some of Barton’s favorite stories come from customers from days gone by. She recalled the story of an ex-boxer named Ronnie, who is rumored to still frequent the bar years after his death, leaving Pall Mall cigarettes and empty Budweiser bottles beneath his favorite seat. However, her favorite patron was Uncle Jerry. He was a traveling salesman who traded stories and jokes and even helped in the bar after he retired.

“Uncle Jerry was probably my favorite,” Barton said.  “He is this guy that talked about himself in the third person, like, ‘Let Uncle Jerry tell you a story; come on over. Let Uncle Jerry tell you this.’ Just a funny guy.”

Barton says even Sovereign’s original owners were anything but bland, adding that when the bar opened more than 70 years ago, it was rumored to be a front for organized crime.  

With a cast of characters and a storied past like that, Sovereign remains a staple in the community and Barton’s life, even though she can’t spend as much time in the bar as she would like these days, with a 10-year-old son, a home and career to manage.

“I kind of assumed that owning a bar would be fun every day, that I'd be in there all the time. And then, of course, you want a house and a family, and once you have a family, you're with your family,” Barton said. “And so, I regret that I don't have more time to spend there, but I don't regret that I'm spending my time with my family and pursuing my career.”

When she can’t be there, Barton employs a small staff who runs the bar. She and her husband often stop in on the weekends to clean up and make repairs. Although, she says she’s not in it for the money — offering cheap beer, including $2 old-style cans and PBR bottles — in a neighborhood with rent on the rise, she says she still finds it a fun pastime after all these years.

“It's just the social aspect of it,” she said. “It's kind of like you're the center of the party, you know. You get to interact with everyone. And like I said, there's such a diversity of people and so many people you come to know. Some of my best friends are people I've met at the bar.”

 

If you ever find yourself in Chicago and get thirsty, stop by Sovereign Liquors located at:  6202 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660; Sun-Fri 12 p.m.-2 a.m., Sat 12 p.m.-3 a.m.

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