AbelsonTaylor’s Dale Taylor has been serving up aid for 25 years

AT president and cofounder Dale Taylor

When AbelsonTaylor president Dale Taylor started treating his employees to casual in-house lunchtime gatherings on Friday afternoons 25 years ago, he did not realize that the tradition would become one of the most enduring philanthropies in the Chicago advertising community.

“I thought it made sense to try to get, at least once a week, everyone together to sit down and talk about stuff that had nothing to do with business,” he says. “For the first couple years it was just Free Lunch Friday. We bought lunch for everybody.”

But at some point — “no one remembers exactly when,” Taylor muses — a member of the staff suggested that the occasion could also be used “to do something to help the community.”

So Abelson Taylor asked its employees to pay $2 for their lunches, which are prepared by a number of popular Chicago restaurants and delivered by Fooda. The agency matched the amount collected every week and donated the sum to charities like the Greater Chicago Food Depository, an organization that Taylor and his wife had supported individually.

Abelson Taylor's in-house atrium cafe at 33 W. Monroe (photo: CharterSills)
Abelson Taylor’s in-house atrium cafe at 33 W. Monroe (photo: CharterSills)

Since then — as Abelson Taylor evolved from a start-up health care boutique of 50 or so people into an internationally celebrated full service shop — Free Lunch Friday has grown to attract, on average, nearly half of the 400 who currently work there.

The weekly event brings a relaxed social vibe to the company’s in-house café, a soaring, wide-open, multiple-story atrium bounded by a northern wall of windows.

It also brings great satisfaction to Taylor, who moved the agency into the building at 33 W. Monroe nearly a decade ago because, among other things, its design energizes the company community.

“That atrium has great internal views,” he says. “You can look around at all the people walking by.”

Agency serves multiple charities

The Chicago Food Depository is one of several charities supported by Abelson Taylor. In January, the agency will unveil the newly branded website it created pro-bono for La Rabida Children’s Hospital, a facility that specializes in “chronic illness, developmental disabilities, abuse and trauma” and, on one occasion, arranged for the kids to enjoy a live performance by AT’s in-house band, “Hard To Swallow.”

There are also thousands of honeybees, dairy cows and goats thriving and multiplying in African villages provided by Heifer Interntational, an organization that seeks to end world hunger and ranks among Taylor’s favorite charities.

But it’s the Free Lunch Fridays that remind Dale Taylor — the Northwestern grad, Army veteran and supremely accomplished entrepreneur — why he still loves coming to the place that he cofounded more than 30 years ago.

“All I really wanted was an agency where I didn’t have to work for jerks and the creative really mattered,” he says. “I usually eat out there, too.”