Optimus’ president/partner Tom Duff isn’t talking about who the special surprise guest will be at its 19th annual Block Party Friday, Aug. 1, except to say “it’s a different approach from previous years because the guest isn’t in the entertainment industry.”
Then he hints with a laugh, “But there will be a lot of dancing.”
There will be a lot of people, too — 2,000-2,500 expected guests at the industry’s largest private company party, to celebrate the 18th anniversary of what the founding partners still refer to as “the New Optimus.”
Their staff of about 90 (triple the staff size since the partners bought the company) will be out in full force, including the entire Santa Monica staff of 12, who will be flying in especially for the occasion.
The original ‘New Optimus” partners, Glen Noren, Randy Palmer, Scott Yurks and Duff (Craig Leffel became the fifth partner in 1997), in 1996 had purchased the 30-year old post house from unlikely owner Anheuser-Busch.
Ten years earlier the St. Louis brewery had bought Optimus from founder/editor Jimmy Smyth as an expansion of its Creative Services. Smyth, who founded Optimus in 1973, walked away $14.5 million richer. A-B, however, never made a profit nor did it recoup its acquisition costs.
Seizing an opportunity, Duff quickly went to work. He had been elevated to president from finance director just five months earlier, after joining Optimus from Leo Burnett. He put all the financial pieces in place and proposed the sale to Anheuser-Busch. After months of tense negotiations, the two parties agreed to the terms and signed the sale papers at 8:30 a.m., July 11, 1996.
A celebration was in order, declared the “New Optimus” owners. Although the invitations were last minute, about 300 clients, fellow suppliers and friends showed up for the party They gathered outside Optimus’ office at Grand Avenue and St. Clair, to feast on hot dogs and pizza and wash it down with every brand of beer that Zimmerman’s Liquor Store had sent over – except for Bud.
Since then, the Block Party traditionally has been held on the first Friday in August, from 2 to 10 p.m. outside the Optimus building. Guests will again enjoy the usual hot dog and ice cream trucks and catering by Volare, the Italian restaurant across the street.
Let the dancing begin!