Thousands expected at Optimus block party

Wearing his iconic red golf shirt and a big Irish smile, Optimus president Tom Duff on Friday will greet from 1,000 to 3,000 guests at Optimus’ 15th Block Party

The party, however, is not to mark Optimus’ 15th anniversary — that’s next year. Rather, it’s a tradition that began when four employees first celebrated their purchase of Optimus from Anheuser-Busch in 1996.

Following the signing of the sale papers at 8:30 a.m. on July 11, 1996, Duff and his three partners — Randy Palmer, Glen Noren and Scott Yurks — felt a celebration was in order after months of intense negotiations.

“We called Zimmerman’s liquor store and ordered cases of every brand of beer they had — except Bud — and had a party,” Duff recalls with a laugh.

A party was certainly in order for the four guys who had just taken a scary personal financial risk to retrieve a prominent but stagnant company from a gargantuan corporation.

About 300 clients, fellow suppliers and friends accepted the last minute invitation. They gathered outside the big red brick building on Grand and St. Clair to feast on hot dogs and pizza and wash it down with non-Bud beer.

Fifteen parties later, “We’re still here and I feel we’re stronger than ever,” says Duff. “And it’s just fun being here every day.”

The owners (Craig Leffel became the fifth partner in 1997) have seen the company’s revenues rise (although sales are closely held) and the Chicago and Santa Monica staff double from 45 to 90. It bought an editing company and its Grand Avenue building, expanded into content creation and production and won countless awards.