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  WINDY CITY TIMES

BUSINESS Dan Earles and Bill Rossi, longtime business partners and friends
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-02-05

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Dan Earles and Bill Rossi have known each other for a quarter-century—and that has involved everything from making crucial decisions about joint businesses to attending ( more than two dozen ) Cher concerts together.

Rossi's and Earles' lives are deeply intertwined. Earles, the principal of Earles Architects & Associates, has more than 35 years providing design and space-planning advice. He also owns the commercial furniture dealer SEAATS as well as the Dyer, Indiana-based business Epic Gourmet Popcorn—the first and only U.S. popcorn company the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce has certified. In addition, he's an active member of the American Institute of Architects' LGBTQI+ Alliance and the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois.

Rossi is the CFO of Earles Architects & Associates and SEAATS, where he is part-owner. He oversaw the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce certification for both companies as well as the launch and expansion of Epic ( which, incidentally, has some delicious varieties ). Like Earles, Rossi is a member of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois.

"We went on a joint trip together," Rossi said. "We sat on noodles for about eight hours and talked and talked and talked. That's how our friendship started." Earles added with a laugh, "Yeah—it was just a bunch of gay boys in the Ozarks."

After the friendship started, they became roommates—and, then, something more professional blossomed. "I actually headed the marketing department for one of the biggest engineering firms in the world, and then I realized I wasn't happy in that culture. I then moved into the investment world, and was actually pretty happy there. We owned a bunch of buildings across the country, and Dan was the architect. Then the recession hit in 2008 and I was hit with the difficult decision of taking a severe pay cut or look for another job. And just as I was about to look for another job, this one here [pointing to Earles] scooped me up."

And their lives constantly meshed through the years. That included the LGBTQ dating service In Good Company, where Rossi served as president (he is the current CFO of eight It's Just Lunch franchises across the nation) and where Earles found a now ex-partner. [Note: Windy City Times wrote about In Good Company in 2005.]

As for the formation of SEAATS, Rossi said that "Dan had always outsourced to furniture companies—and when you do that, a lot of things are going to be problematic. He wanted to add the commercial furniture component so we could all have it in house." Earles added, "Bringing it in adds to our clients and it helps to make for a more integrated project and a more cohesive design."

When it comes to staying successful in the ever-evolving market of architecture, Earles explained that diversity is the key—and that it starts with himself. "If I can inspire someone else by coming out or encourage someone by being true to myself, it's [great]," he said. "It's a passion of mine, and being open and inclusive is important. If people are comfortable with who they are, they can just come to work and do a great job."

Then there's Epic. "Bill brought it to me as an idea in 2017 as an investment opportunity. It's kind of the fun side of the organization—and who doesn't like popcorn?" Rossi said, "It also allows us to use it as the giving arm of our organization, to support causes we believe in." Epic has, among other things, celebration boxes for people who, for example, come out.

And Epic is mushrooming, with an expansion Rossi mentioned to Windy City Times. Unfortunately, the details cannot be revealed just yet—but the company has even gotten the attention of a certain presidential candidate. "We customized green chili jerky popcorn for Pete Buttigieg, " Rossi said, with a smile. "He liked it—but, for me, let's just say it's an acquired taste."

As for advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Earles said, "You have to have a passion for what you want to do—you have to enjoy it. [Also,] you have to surround yourself with good people to help you make good decisions." Rossi advice is having the "passion, drive and dedication to succeed. You have to be willing to accept failure, and the successes will come out of your failure. Just persevere and make quick decisions—I go with my gut."

Fast facts about Dan Earles and Bill Rossi:

—They both reside in northwest Indiana.

—Favorite snacks: For Earles, it's peanut-butter pretzels; for Rossi, it's Twizzlers and pretzels.

—If you could ask President Trump one question, what would it be? Rossi said his question would be "Do you really dislike LGBT people?" Earles would ask "Why do you lie so much?"

—Favorite TV show: Rossi likes The Masked Singer and Schitt's Creek, while Earles ( a die-hard Star Trek fan ) likes Star Trek: Discovery.

—A surprising thing each revealed about the other: Of Earles, Rossi said, "I tell everyone that Dan is the next closest thing to God that I know. He's really involved in his church; he runs everything there." Regarding Rossi, Earles revealed that he's battling a condition: "As healthy as [Bill] is, he has a severe heart condition—hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He went through heart surgery in 2018."


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