CHICAGO -- The 2014 calendar year has been exceptional for Frank Thomas.
At the core of Thomas' good fortune was becoming a first-ballot electee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Jan. 8. Thomas was then inducted on July 27 with a Cooperstown class including Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.
But on Thursday, the focus fell more on Frank Thomas, businessman and restaurateur, than Frank Thomas, highly accomplished baseball player.
Big Hurt Brewhouse, taking its name from the moniker given to Thomas by White Sox television play-by-play voice Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, had an official groundbreaking ceremony at its Berwyn location, southwest of the city.
'Official groundbreaking' conveys the idea that the project just started. But this isn't the case for Thomas and his crew, who hope for a soft open of their upscale sports bar and restaurant on Sept. 23.
"Using that word 'upscale,' meaning in style, but not in price," said Thomas with a broad smile. "We are 30 days away. You'll be shocked to see what happens here in the next 30 days."
Thomas took the crowd on a tour of the Brewhouse, describing each area of the building with pride and care. The location is a historical landmark, a one-time bank that has been around for 100 years. A massive kitchen in the Brewhouse, run by Chef Orin Crumrine, came about in part from cutting through an old vault.
During a question-and-answer session on Thursday, Thomas mentioned that he has had many restaurant opportunities over the course of the past two decades. He didn't want to open an establishment until he could be personally involved, instead of being present in name only.
"This is something I plan on being here for a while. This is not a quick thing," said Thomas, who noted that the space has approximately 120 parking spots, and it's being zoned for valet parking on the weekends. "It's going to be really safe and secure. This is going to be beautiful. It will be a nice destination restaurant."
"We've had a lot of projects come through," said Berwyn Mayor Robert J. Lovero, who discussed the historical importance of the building to the residents of the area. "But none that have brought the excitement and world-class effort Mr. Thomas has brought to us in the city of Berwyn."
Berwyn provides a hub for Chicago sports diehards, the core of the fan base that "helped make the Big Hurt become who he is," according to Thomas. Those fans are one of the reasons Thomas picked this location as opposed to downtown Chicago. Thomas started this endeavor more than 15 months ago, looking for a home for his Big Hurt Beer. Five different kinds will eventually be on tap at the Brewhouse.
Fans and patrons will quite frequently see Thomas, who has an office built into the restaurant. If Thomas is not present, they can take pictures with a statue of Thomas at the entrance that Thomas says is a replica of the one residing on the U.S. Cellular Field concourse.
"I'll be here quite a bit of the time. Not every day, but almost," Thomas said. "I want all Chicagoland to come here."
Thomas mentioned a television show that involves him that may be taped on the premises. He also mentioned honoring the U.S. Little League champs, Jackie Robinson West, at some point in the near future. In fact, the groundbreaking ceremony was originally supposed to take place Wednesday, but it was moved back one day so Thomas could also take part in the JRW rally at Millennium Park.
Opening up his Brewhouse will be a milestone of a different kind for Thomas, who hit a franchise-record 448 home runs over 16 years for the White Sox, and hit 521 career home runs in 19 seasons to go with his .301 average, .419 on-base percentage and .555 slugging percentage.
Those numbers contributed to Thomas' Hall of Fame election. Thomas thanked 138 former teammates during his speech, and he estimated Thursday that at least 80 percent of those players have since contacted him.
"My phone was blowing up. A lot of numbers I didn't know, but voices I did know. It was special," Thomas said. "I'm indebted to the game. I respect the game. To go in [as part of] six first-ballot Hall of Famers, it made my year. It really made my life.
"It still hasn't set in. There were thousands and thousands of people cheering and screaming. It was overwhelming. I just wanted to pay respect to all my teammates who really helped get me to Cooperstown and all the people and coaches who helped me along the way."