On a trip to Chicago from his native Italy, young Mario Tricoci changed his life forever. The fledgling hairdresser stopped in at a prestigious salon, where he impressed the owner with his impeccable display of skill and landed himself a job. The next six decades brought strings of industry awards and the opening of his very own salon, which soon exploded into 26 locations in four states. With his styling prowess proven both to the industry and to the clients he encountered each day, the coiffeur decided to share his gift with others. In 2004, he established Tricoci University to foster a new generation of cosmetologists and spa technicians trained to thrive in the luxury-spa industry.
Throughout the Midwest, Tricoci protégés study a rigorous curriculum in high-end salon and spa surroundings to learn how to create beautiful hairdos, choose skin-flattering cosmetics, and beautify nails and skin. A team of experienced industry professionals readies pupils for the beauty world with in-depth classes, and outside education arrives via video demonstrations and guest-artist lectures on Vidal Sassoon's Wedge-Bob Postulate. More advanced students get a preview of their career to come by beautifying real people during instructor-supervised treatments, which lend the stylist essential experience as the client enjoys a pampering session at a discounted rate.
At Fatman Sports Lounge & Lanes, bowlers hurl orbs down 12 automatically scored lanes. Illustrations of electrified neon balls and pins line the alley's walls, complementing the beat-heavy tunes and pulsing lights of nightly cosmic bowling. An arcade challenges guests with pinball machines, racing games, and a claw machine that beckons with the promise of winning a stuffed toy or permission to cheat at one round of bowling.
The restaurant proves far more ambitious than the standard bowling-alley snack bar, dishing out thick, slow-simmered chili, a score of piled-high sandwiches, broasted chicken, and house-made pizza. Bartenders spin cocktails that tend toward the elaborate, potent, and sweet, with a dozen different variations on a long island iced tea alone.
Behind a red-brick storefront and striped awning, Viva Le Vine's vintners curate a collection of vintages both affordable and high end, pairing them with cheeses and other finger foods. Wooden racks hoist obsidian bottles of reds and whites, and the wine bar dispenses pours and sampling flights alongside microbrews, seasonal cocktails, and martinis. Cushy, black leather furniture and high-top tables dot the brightly lit interior and an upright piano stands against the wall for impromptu instrumental renditions of Gangsta's Paradise. A painting of colorful donkeys stares down enviously from rich burgundy walls at rich plates of succulent chocolates and naan covered in hearty toppings. The shop hosts live entertainment, numerous tastings, and trivia events throughout the year.
The School of Rock provides contemporary musical instruction to pint-sized rockers of all ages and abilities. There is no experience required to enroll in Rock 101. Wannabe Jaggers and Springsteens can select their weapon of choice from a finely tuned arsenal of guitars, bass guitars, drums, keyboards, saxophones, or voice boxes and immediately commence beat-based training. Students receive one-on-one tutelage in the art of rocking out during a weekly 45-minute private lesson and deploy ensemble rhythms during a 90-minute group rehearsal. Real musicians provide performance-based instruction in a low-stress atmosphere, conducive to the cultivation of confidence, skill, and pigeon-free signature stage moves.
Tressa Thomas has a résumé most performers would envy. She launched her career on stage with dozens of performances throughout Chicago as both a solo singer and band member. She landed a role in Robert Townsend’s film about 1960s R&B music, The Five Heartbeats, which led to a duet with the legendary Patti LaBelle on the film’s soundtrack.
This was all before Thomas turned 13.
Since then, her momentum hasn’t slowed—it’s just swerved in a few new directions. The Columbia College grad was cast in other movies (including Flatliners and Message in a Bottle), produced three independent shorts, and worked on a fourth that came just short of an Academy Award nomination. In the midst of her cinematic endeavors, she also pursued plus-sized modeling, eventually appearing in Ebony, Jet, the LA Times, and other national publications.
Given that she first started singing publicly at age three, when most children can’t yet tell the difference between music and the sound the vacuum cleaner makes, Thomas has never had an issue with confidence. But she realized that as a successful African-American, plus-sized female performer, she was a rarity. And so she decided to share her confidence with other women. She founded ThYck Troupe, a group that started modestly as a “modeling interest club” and grew into a nonprofit organization that creates performance opportunities for other plus-sized women.
Today, ThYck Troupe has gained the support of Secretary of State Jesse White and Governor Pat Quinn in its mission to enrich the Chicago arts community. In addition to mentoring young women and promoting size acceptance, the troupe produces an original web series, organizes fashion shows, and showcases performers in theatrical and musical productions. The company members represent nearly every medium of the creative arts—there are singers and dancers, poets and songwriters, models and actresses, journalists and radio personalities. With the Thyck and Fit Initiative, they broadcast a message of health as well as confidence, giving full-figured women and men the tools they need to achieve good exercise and nutrition habits at any size.
Named for the main river running through Venezuela, Orinoco Fitness is a studio that aims to be as relaxing as a day out in nature. Owner Ana Santos Gitzinger, a native Venezuelan, styled the studio in a way that evokes the beauty of her homeland. The walls of Orinoco Fitness are splashed with images of South American waterfalls, mountains, and rainforests in order to help clients “shake off the Midwestern wintertime blues.” Above all, Gitzinger wants her clients to achieve fitness in an environment that’s fun and relaxing. In keeping with the stress-free atmosphere, students are encouraged to relax with a cup of tea in the lounge area after each yoga, Zumba, or Pilates class.