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Business Profiles

Wheeling and Prospect Heights and their Chamber of Commerce are fortunate to boast a diverse economic base, consisting of businesses, large and small, new and well-established. Some primarily serve local residents, others serve the larger Chicago community and still others provide services or ship product to the entire country or even the world.

Bertog Landscape

Tracy Bertog, CEO and founder of Bertog Landscape in Wheeling, developed a love for landscaping as a teenager. He started cutting

lawns in Glenview at the age of 12 and as soon as he could, progressed to working in a local garden center and landscape company.

He actually started Bertog Landscape when he was only a junior in high school and purchased a dump truck for the busi-ness four days before his 16th birthday. In fact, the receipt from Tom Todd for that truck still hangs in his office.

“My dad was a professor at Oakton College and he was a strong believer in a college education. So he insisted that I at least go through Triton College’s two-year horticulture program. When I finished, he saw my passion for what I was doing and how my landscape business was taking off and he was satisfied,” Bertog recalled.

Bertog Landscape has grown steadily over the years, moving to Wheeling 10 years ago. Today it employs 30 people full-time (including four landscape architects/designers) and 70 seasonal workers (from March to Thanksgiving). His brothers, Bob and Steve, also work in the business. Bob serves as president and Steve runs the irrigation and lighting division.

Although Bertog handles some commercial jobs, the firm focuses on high-end residential landscape designs along the North Shore, the Barrington area, Lake Geneva and as far south as Hinsdale.

“We design and build outdoor kitchens, patios and raised terraces,” he said. “I would estimate that 60 percent of our work involves the installation of plant materials while the other 40 percent of the time we are working with hardscapes, irrigation systems and lighting. We work almost 100 percent on referrals.”

After installation, Bertog also handles weekly maintenance because they like to monitor the progress of their trees and plants. They have 15 three-man crews that maintain both residences and commercial properties.

“I love seeing a new home with no landscaping and then watching as we transform it with landscaping, hardscape and lighting. Watching the progress of jobs is still exciting,” he said.

Priester Aviation

Charles Priester is the chairman of Priester Aviation, a private aviation company based at Chicago Executive Airport that specializes in global charter and aircraft management. The Priester name has been synonymous with air travel in the northwest suburbs since Charles’ father, George, purchased the field in 1953. At the time, the runways were made of cinders and the longest one was 2,800 feet long.

Over the next 33 years, the family firm expanded the size of the airport; paved runways; added lights; and constructed 10 corporate hangars. An instrument approach was established, and the 5,000-foot paved runway constructed in 1961. By 1965 several corporate hangars had been built and in 1967 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commissioned an air traffic control tower at the airport.

Improvements continued through the 1970s and early 1980s until Palwaukee Airport, as it was called then, was named the busiest privately-owned airfield in the world in 1983. Shortly thereafter, the Priesters began the process of negotiating the sale of the airport to the neighboring communities of Wheeling and Prospect Heights so they could focus on aircraft management and jet charter.

“We are aviation people. We wanted Palwaukee to remain an airport because it was in a great location and since we knew that it couldn’t remain an airport if it was privately-owned, we sold it,” he recalled.

Ownership formally changed in late 1986 and around the same time the Priesters also sold their Fixed Base Operations (FBO) business that provided necessary services to the aviation community. Charles Priester ran the operation for the owners and after one year was invited to join the ownership group.

In 2001, the remaining partners sold the FBO to Signature Flight Support to focus on growing the aircraft management and global charter business.

Charles and his son, Andy, the firm’s current president and CEO, have built Priester Aviation into a force to be reckoned with in the private aviation field. They now employ nearly 300 people and have a fleet of 60 advanced business jets strategically positioned around the world, about a dozen of which are based at Chicago Executive Airport. They currently are experiencing exceptional growth in satellite locations including Texas and New York City, Charles said.

In addition, Priester offers a comprehensive aircraft management service for those individuals and corporations that own their own aircraft. They provide administration, trip coordination, crew scheduling, flight operations, crew training, regulatory oversight, risk management and maintenance coordination.

Superdawg

Laura Berman Ustick, general manager of Superdawg’s Wheeling location at 333 S. Milwaukee Ave., represents the third generation of the Berman family to be involved in management of the 68-year-old business that started in Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood in 1948.

Maurie (recently deceased) and Flaurie (now 90) Berman made a name for themselves with their original hot dog drive-in restaurant, complete with dancing hot dogs on the roof, at 6363 N. Milwaukee Ave. Over the years their son, Scott, daughter, Lisa, and son-in-law, Don Drucker, also became involved and they all work together running both locations.

Scott’s daughter, Laura, grew up in the business, too, first working as a carhop at the age of 15. After college, she went to work for a large restaurant chain in Washington, D.C., while she decided whether the restaurant business was what she wanted. By 2008 she had made her decision and returned to Chicago to find her place in the Superdawg business.

That was also when plans for a second, much larger, restaurant materialized, and the expectation was that Laura would run it. There was never any question where the new restaurant would be built. Back in 1982, Maurie had bought that Wheeling parcel between the Des Plaines River and Milwaukee Avenue, anticipating that it would be a great place for a restaurant. For many years they used the existing building on the site as a warehouse, Laura recalled.

“Our family may move slowly,” she quipped, “but we finally pulled the trigger and opened the new place in January 2010. It is three times larger than the original one with taller dancing hot dogs on the roof, but it is also a drive-in that has a picnic area and it offers the same delicious food and friendly family atmosphere.”

Superdawg hot dogs are specially made for them of 100 percent beef. They are smokier, larger and more flavorful than any competitor’s hot dog, Laura said, and they come with a unique grouping of Chicago-style toppings: mustard, onion, relish, pickle, tangy and slightly hot sport peppers and pickled green tomatoes.

Laura admitted that getting customers and long-time staff members (who knew her as a teenager) to recognize her as the boss and a successful businessperson was a bit of a hurdle, but she has succeeded and her staff of 25 works well with her now in a team atmosphere.

Five members of the Berman family are currently involved in the Superdawg business and family dinners often transform themselves into business meetings, but Laura said she enjoys working in the family business because everyone is totally invested in the restaurant and really cares.

“We aren’t just a bunch of random strangers working in a restaurant together,” she said.

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