From the August 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Our whole objective is to make people comfortable," says Michael Tracy, founder of the restaurant/nightclub The Living Room. "We thought we'd be successful, but [our concept] has met with a lot more success than we ever thought it would."

The concept Tracy is referring to, put simply, is a meshing of social gathering place and live entertainment site--rolled into one big room. Patrons at either the Lombard or Schaumburg, Illinois, locations ease themselves into overstuffed chairs, relax or converse by the fireplace, play chess, and tune into live music as disparate as Latin and big band. It's a post-twenty-something's alternative to noisy, predatory nightclubs.

Sensing a dearth of social settings for mature consumers, Tracy launched his first Living Room location three years ago. Encouraged by the response, the 42-year-old opened the doors to a second location just last December. This fall, plans call for the opening of a downtown Chicago Living Room, with Atlanta and Boca Raton, Florida, on the list of possible future sites.

"We have a ton of regulars," says Tracy, whose Lombard location sees more than 4,000 people every week. Ahh, the comforts of overstuffed chairs.

Cactus Cool

Sticklers for traditional foods might shudder. Skeptics might raise an eyebrow or two. But as strange as it sounds, cactus seems to be inching its way into the culinary mainstream.

Cactus? That's right. "We consider this a growing trend," says Tracy Hayward, president and founder of Hayward Enterprises Inc., a St. Helena, California, food-processing company that introduced its frozen cactus purée last year. "[Cactus] will probably become like the kiwi of the 1970s."

Hayward, whose Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Puree is used in restaurants across North America, was inspired to add the cactus flavor to her line of 35-plus frozen purées after receiving many requests. Restaurants use this purée in cocktails, vinaigrettes, sauces--even sorbets.

"I'd say it [resembles] melon in taste," says Hayward.

That's the fruit part, of course. Cactus pads taste much different. Whether processed or eaten fresh, though, cactus is nothing if not versatile. By the pricking of our thumbs, something tasty this way comes. . . .

Gone Fishin'

Maybe it's time for a sequel to "A River Runs Through It." The popular film about fly-fishing is a BODYament to the lure of this most intricate of fishing styles--a lure strong enough to reel in a steady stream of devotees.

Just how steady a stream? The fly-fishing market is estimated to comprise between 6 million and 8 million anglers nationwide. According to Jerry Wiant at the North American Fly-Tackle Trade Association (NAFTA), participation in the sport has doubled in recent years. "Fly-fishing is growing," he says. "And we hope it'll continue to do so."

As for why folks go fly-fishing, NAFTA research indicates that anglers line up to enjoy the outdoors and to relax. Such benefits are so appreciated that nearly one-third of anglers travel more than 100 miles to pursue their passion. And according to a recent survey from Montauk, New York, fly-fishing travel firm The Gillie, close to 90 percent of fly-fishing devotees take at least one fishing trip every three years.

"It's a serious sport," says Wiant. That seriousness isn't restricted to men, either: Though relatively few in number, women are a growing force in the fly-fishing industry. Gee, that stream is getting a little crowded, isn't it?

Labor Days

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's back to work they go! Although the image of carefree, sun-baked weekends is deeply embedded into our nation's psyche, that isn't keeping the vast majority of office workers from putting in overtime on Saturday, Sunday or both. Alas, is the American weekend becoming extinct?

You'd think so after scanning the results of a survey released in April by Steelcase Inc., a Grand Rapids, Michigan, office furniture design and manufacturing company. In the nationwide examination of offices with 100 employees or more, it was discovered that a whopping 73 percent of workers toil on the weekends.

Clearly, all this work cuts into workers' free time--creating a demand for an escalating number of products and services to help folks beat the clock. A dry-cleaning business that delivers? Check. A personal shopping service? Check. A software program that teaches time management? Check.

Don't, however, make the mistake of thinking workers only need weekend time-savers. With approximately half the survey participants clocking more overall hours than five years ago, it's apparent that time is pressing Americans every day. But those precious weekends are surely the most dearly missed.

Look Who's Cooking

Real men cook--or, at least, a lot of them do. That's the conclusion to be drawn from a recent survey conducted by Wilsonart International, a Temple, Texas, laminate materials manufacturer.

To serve up specifics, Wilsonart's survey--which polled close to 1,000 U.S. households--revealed that men are more likely than women (albeit, by a small margin) to consider themselves expert chefs. Perhaps more surprisingly, men scored but a few percentage points shy of women in terms of classifying themselves as either "serious amateurs" or "putterers" in the kitchen.

What's more, the publishing world's consistent focus on culinary arts--witness, for instance, Hearst Corp.'s recent introduction of Mr. Food's EasyCooking--might make food preparation a little more palatable and even appetizing to the man of the house.

Still, men and women remain on opposite sides of the kitchen when it comes to cleaning up. Women are more likely to characterize themselves as meticulous cleaners and are much more apt to assist their cooking spouse in cleanup duty than the other way around. C'mon, guys: Real men scrub kitchen sinks.

Male Polish

Guys are brushing up on their personal grooming habits--and no, we're not referring to the laBODY hairstyles. Having already experimented with tattoos and body piercing, men are branching out into a new form of personal expression: wearing nail polish.

"It's just a way for guys to have fun," says Wende Zomnir of Urban Decay, a Costa Mesa, California, cosmetics company that sells its line of unisex nail polish in Nordstrom department stores as well as selected clothing boutiques. "I think it's going to become more and more acceptable--just like [men wearing] earrings."

As with earrings, though, men donning nail polish isn't an effeminate gesture--far from it. That's why, says Zomnir, Urban Decay's customers line up for such nongirly shades as "Uzi" (gun metal gray), "Mildew" (fatigue green), "Radium" (brilliant metallic blue), and "Roach" (dark brown).

Zomnir, however, isn't betting the sales of men's nail polish will outshine those of women. "I'm not sure it's going to become a daily ritual for men," she muses. "Compared with women, [men are] lazy. They're not used to all the grooming we grow up learning how to do."

Not that we're painting--er, pointing--any fingers, mind you.

Cruuuuunch!

Teeth, don't fail us now. Even as the nation's population gets progressively older--which, presumably, translates into a greater incidence of dental decay--major food manufacturers are betting there's a market eager for foods that tempt the palate and BODY the molars. Pudding lovers, step aside: Crunchy products are making a big noise in supermarket aisles.

"It appears to be growing in popularity, but I don't see anything to indicate a landslide trend," cautions Tom Vierhile of the Naples, New York, market research firm Marketing Intelligence Service. Nonetheless, Vierhile cites figures revealing about a 40 percent increase in crunchy or crispy products introduced in North America between 1992 and 1996.

Why are such heavy hitters as Nabisco and General Mills packing a crunch these days? That's something for consumers and trend watchers alike to chew on. As for us, we're more than willing to sink our teeth into, say, the new Cap'n Crunch snack bars. Who needs pudding anyway?