Northwest Side Hero: Mike Brick
Mike Brick is the successful owner of Epic Builders, specializing in historic renovations and brewpub construction. He has brought “blueprints to reality” for 14 breweries in the area, including Old Irving Brewing Company, Haymarket, Pipeworks, Eris, and Alarmist, just to name a few. He has carved out a niche for himself in brewpub construction, and has elated many beer-lovers in Chicago along the way.
“They are a good group of people to work for, a great network. If you take care of them, they take care of you.”
But Mike wasn’t nominated as a Northwest Side Hero for his professional work. For the past 4 years, Mike has used his contacts in beer and hospitality to raise money for his local parish of St. Viator, through the Old Irving Park Beer & BBQ Challenge, which runs every summer on the first Saturday in August. In the last few years, the fest has doubled in size and raised over $100K for the church and school.
“We supply the pork shoulder, and competing teams can do anything they want with it. We see pizza, tacos, Vietnamese sandwiches, you name it. Cook teams are paired with local brewers and they have a lot of fun competing for people's votes."
Teams are judged by other festivalgoers and celebrity foodies for best beer, best food, and best pairing.
“People rave that it’s the best thing to do all summer. It’s become really popular.”
And though this volunteer work is impressive, what truly elevates Mike (and wife Cynthia) Brick to hero status is what was done for a complete stranger. From neighbor and friend, John Neurauter:
“Oh, did I mention that the Brick family years ago took in a homeless man down on his luck and he still lives with them as a member of their family? That’s just sort of icing on the cake.”
Mike and Cynthia, who have lived in the Old Irving Park neighborhood for 25 years, were coming home one stormy night and noticed a man with what looked like all of his belongings on the curb.
“I went into the house and put the kids to bed, and Cynthia went over there to ask him if he needed some help.”
The Bricks had an enclosed front porch and offered to set the man up there for the night. His name was Larry, and he gratefully accepted. Mike was not the type of guy to help someone from a distance.
“The next morning, I asked Larry if he wanted some coffee.”
And simple as that, Mike got to know Larry on a more personal level and learn his story. Larry held a law degree, but was on disability, not enough to cover his expenses. He was more than eager to help out around the house to repay the favor. The Bricks agreed to let Larry stay on the porch for as long as he needed, and in exchange, Larry walked their dog. When the weather turned colder, Mike set him up for a month at a local hotel. But by this time, he wasn’t a stranger anymore.
“He’s really a great guy. He has walked our dog 2-3 times a day for the past 14 years. He’ll sit down to dinner with us and comes to Christmas with our family.”
Larry is now an unofficial member of the Brick family, spends most of his time in their basement, and shows Mike that he has a lot left to learn.
“Larry brightens my day, and does more for me than I do for him. It took nothing to help him. You see people under the viaducts and 99% of them have mental illness.
Larry very well would have been one of those guys under the viaduct if he didn’t get just a little bit of help.”
Just neighbors helping neighbors, something instilled in Mike from his parents, Jim and Dorothy, who taught Mike that if you say you’re a Christian, you should act like it. Mike’s wife of 30 years, Cynthia, has been another source of inspiration, spending much of her life helping the homeless. In the mid 1990s, Cynthia started Cornerstone, which is now Hands to Help Ministries, offering housing and other supports for homeless or people at risk of becoming homeless in the area.
Mike claims he’s a bit embarrassed by the hero label and shrugs off the spotlight.
“Cynthia’s the really good person. You should really be talking to her.”