Greg Barnhart says he had a reputation of making delicious grilled cheese sandwiches for his kids when they were young. His children are now in their 20s and involved in his growing food truck venture built around making gourmet versions of the sandwiches he made years ago.

Barnhart, an avid foodie, was working in consulting in the auto manufacturing industry, grew tired of the travel and was looking for a career change. He came up with the idea for a food truck, but wanted something unique. "We wanted something different -- not burgers and hot dogs that are served everywhere," he said.

Five years ago, the Roselle resident started with one food truck and sold grilled cheese sandwiches four days a week in a parking lot of a Schaumburg strip mall. The sandwiches were a hit and developed a following, as did his company, Toasty Cheese Restaurant Group.

While the food truck concept has long been a popular one in cities like Portland and Los Angeles, Chicago and the suburbs are slowly making a mark in the $1.2 billion industry. Barnhart's upscale grilled cheese sandwiches, filled with ingredients ranging from duck bacon, cilantro-avacado aioli, Sicilian cherry tomatoes and apple/cabbage slaw, are about $9.

Barnhart, 52, grew the business, buying another truck to serve tacos. Toasty Taco features authentic street tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other favorites. Last month, his mobile food empire again expanded with the acquisition of Best Truckin' BBQ, specializing in American barbecue with sauces like spiced pomegranate BBQ. He then bought The Crave Bar, an ice cream truck that serves sweet & salty treats that combine ice cream with gourmet pretzels.

"Best Truckin' BBQ and the Crave Bar were both founded on the same principle of creativity and commitment to excellence that Toasty Cheese and Toasty Taco were built on," said Barnhart, who grew up in central Illinois.

The mobile food concepts include catering of both corporate and private events.

Barnhart does a great deal of the prep work at his Toasty Cheese restaurant, seating 65 people, at 951 W. Wise Road in Schaumburg. A temporary restaurant has also opened through the holidays at Northbrook Court.

He has about 60 employees during the summer season. Barnhart says he is looking to expand with additional restaurants and trucks.

Engineering promotion

Gewalt Hamilton Associates Inc., a 36-year old civil engineering firm in Vernon Hills, recently elected Michael T. Shrake as president.

Former President Bruce L. Shrake will continue to serve as CEO, giving one of Gewalt Hamilton's long-standing employees the opportunity to assume the pivotal role of president. Michael Shrake will focus on leading the company in continued service of clients, improving internal operations, employee career development, and long term growth of the firm.

He started as the first intern of Gewalt Hamilton in the summer of 1985 and became a full-time employee in January 1986 after completing his Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Rhode Island. During his career, he has served as a designer, surveyor, resident engineer, project manager and village engineer for numerous municipalities.

Successful women

A letter written by Nancy Joerg, senior attorney and managing shareholder of the St. Charles office of Wessels Sherman Joerg Liszka Laverty Seneczko, was featured in a book called "Grit, the Secret to Advancement: Stories of Successful Women Lawyers."

The book includes stories from 47 highly successful female lawyers who have used grit and growth principles to advance in their legal careers. It was published earlier this summer by the American Bar Association.

Joerg has been with the law firm for 28 years. She represents employers in all types of unemployment insurance audits and hearings, independent contractor matters, discrimination charges, employee termination issues and wage and hour issues.

Complete deal

Northbrook-based Barnett Capital completed the $84 million disposition of a 20-property, almost 2.1-million-square-foot portfolio to Rosemont-based Brennan Investment Group. Approximately 25 percent of the portfolio is located in the suburbs, including Chicago Ridge, Libertyville, Lombard, McHenry and Romeoville.

The largest of the Chicago area properties, and the largest in the portfolio, was 1100 Corporate Drive in McHenry. The 378,325-square-foot building, which was developed in 1999, is leased to a single tenant, Brake Parts. The property is located on a nearly 20-acre land parcel and features approximately 5,000 square feet of office space and parking for 185 cars.

The other properties in the area portfolio included:

• 2001 West Kelley Court, Libertyville, 46,612 square feet

• 970 Lombard Road, Lombard, 42,920 square feet

• 10047 Virginia Ave., Chicago Ridge, 35,450 square feet

• 737 Oakridge Drive, Romeoville, 32,500 square feet