Beyond the Boardroom: Bentley’s Pub’s Ashley Buerkett

By Chicago 11 Min Read

BTB Buerkett 4

Bentley’s Pub managing partner Ashley Buerkett is shown at the bar on the north end of downtown Champaign.


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“I am a townie through and through. Even my birthday is 2/17,” says animal lover, downtown business owner, Champaign Central alumna and cool boss ASHLEY BUERKETT.

Other than college in Florida and six years in Chicago, Buerkett has called C-U home all her life, from her elementary days at Holy Cross to her bustling career now — as managing partner at Bentley’s Pub and owner/manager of downtown properties under Taylor Street Lofts who occasionally squeezes in some graphic design on the side.

She and fiancé/fellow townie Garrick share a home with Mordechai the ginger cat and Olive the Olde English Bulldogge. (“RIP to our first English Bulldog, June, forever in our hearts.”)

Three weeks before she’s honored along with the 39 other members of Central Illinois Business Magazine’s Forty Under 40 all-star team, Buerkett took time out to answer questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in the 200th installment of our weekly speed read spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.

My philosophy on meetings is … only schedule a meeting if whatever you’re discussing can’t be handled in a text, email or phone call. Only call if it can’t be handled in a text or email.

My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is … be honest and communicate openly. If you hit a rough patch in life and maybe show up late for work because you accidentally slept in, it’s OK.

We are human and no one has a mistake-free track record.

But if you are dishonest, give excuses and it keeps happening, I find that much harder to work with.

When it comes to the hardest thing about being a leader … I think making sure you’ve considered all sides is tricky. What’s right for you, the business, the staff, the customer and the community isn’t always the same so you have to use your best judgment and try to do right by all.

To that point, it’s sometimes hard to know whether to listen to the advice of others or trust your gut. If you do go with your gut and it was the wrong decision, owning it and being transparent is a sign of strength, not weakness.

I can’t live without … my phone, 100 percent. I have an embarrassing amount of apps.

The three adjectives I hope my staff would use to describe me are … fair, flexible and kind.

My professional role models are … my parents. My dad never went to college but he worked his way up at Melody Music and got involved in other business ventures, including Bentley’s. Since he passed, I’ve made an attempt to fill his shoes but to say it’s been hard is putting it lightly.

My mom also started her own marketing business (BMC) and she and her designer, Al Fleener — shoutout, Surface 51 — are why I ended up going to school for design.

Both of my parents also just made raising two kids and running your own business look so easy. I miss them terribly every day but I am still learning from them when I ask myself what they would do in challenging situations.

And even though my sister didn’t get to start her professional career, the way she balanced school, athletics, friends and still made time for self-care — even at the age of 19 — was remarkable and something I still aspire to.

As for my favorite moments on the job … in terms of real estate, making my first property purchase had to be it. It was scary signing those papers but also very exciting.

As for Bentley’s, I have to say I love our staff parties. Our staff works so hard on the regular so seeing everyone relax and enjoy themselves gives me the warm-fuzzies.

Between those parties and the moment we realized we’d get through COVID are up there. It was so hard to provide an environment where people felt safe enough to let themselves have a little fun. We had to roll with a lot of punches and asked our staff to do so much more than usual and they really stepped up.

Saying we’re blessed is an understatement.

I’m frugal in that … I refuse to buy a printer. I feel like every single one I’ve had has always been a pain and I absolutely hate having paper documents.

If I could trade places for a week with any other business person in town, I wouldn’t mind switching with … our friend Jeff Brandt at Exile on Main or the lovely Sarah Compratt at Fleurish. I think being surrounded by music or flowers all day seems pretty amazing.

Special shoutout to Matthis at Plant Mode. He’d be on my list except for, as much as I love plants, I can’t keep them alive.

In all seriousness, they each run amazing stores and I can only imagine the specific challenges I’d face if I stepped in their shoes for a week. Our community is lucky to have them.

The first thing I do when I get to work most days … totally depends on what needs to be done that day, but usually I will start a meeting or a shift with some of the Page Roasting Co. cold brew that we sell at the bar because it’s delicious and it gets me going.

For lunch … I typically go out somewhere downtown since I’m usually already in the area. Since Sticky Rice is so close, I eat there quite a bit. Mickie can probably attest to my love of their pho kai.

But honestly, I love trying new things and have probably eaten at just about every restaurant in town.

I wind down after work by … going on a walk with my fiancee and our bulldog, Olive. I also like to listen to music, play video games, go to shows, cook, plan trips and hang out with buddies.

When it comes to the last luxury in which I indulged … I am about to book tickets to go to Seville. I haven’t gone overseas in a couple years and I really just wanted to be somewhere warmer for my birthday in February.

The most beneficial part of going to Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota for my bachelor’s in graphic design was … it helped prepare me for not just how to improve my design skills but also how to discuss and sell my ideas, take constructive criticism and how to market myself and price my time fairly.

Even though I’m not a full-time designer anymore, I still bring lessons I learned there with me. Big shoutout to Professors Bleitz and Utermohlen.

The last good book I read was … “Mindhunter,” by John E. Douglas. After the show went off the air awhile ago, I was bummed about it so I figured I’d read the book it’s based on. In general, I only read non-fiction books about history, science or true crime.

My morning wakeup time … totally depends. I can be up early if need be but left to my own devices, I can sleep in pretty late. I’ve been a night-owl since I can remember, which is beneficial in the service industry but not so much in general. The world was unfairly designed for morning people.

My exercise routine consists of … usually a walk or a run in Meadowbrook since we live nearby. Occasionally, I’ll do a home work out or join a gym in the winter.

I also used to play a lot more volleyball and tennis before COVID and I’m trying to get back into that.

The first job I ever had came … one summer when I lived with my friend Kim in the Lake of the Ozarks and we worked at a gas dock called Pointe Oasis. We pumped gas for boats, rented out jet-skis and cleaned boats, but we also got to swim all the time and play fetch with dock-diving dogs between customers.

Honestly, it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

The worst job I ever had was … babysitting. I only did it a couple times as a teenager but it was not for me. I like kids but I think they are just so intuitive that they could tell I was nervous and awkward about being in charge.

However, I’ll pet-sit any day. I love animals.

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