Mitch Byrne, owner of Northeast Cooling, Mundelein, IL, started his HVACR career at age 20, working for a boiler demolition company. It was a rough start.

“The job was low paying, and extremely tough,” he recalls. “The work consisted of lugging bricks and sections of boilers out of basements. I eventually decided to go to trade school to get a better job in the trades.”

Byrne excelled. He graduated from Chicago’s Coyne College with top honors. Then, it was on to a series of jobs that provided valuable experience, but more importantly, helped him find out what he really wanted in an HVACR career.

His first job was with a residential HVAC contractor specializing in SpacePak air conditioning installations.

“I then worked at a half-dozen commercial HVAC and refrigeration firms, advancing quickly, to a point where I found my strength was in commercial refrigeration repair,” he shares.

By 2007, he was close to earning top wages, but his employer at the time denied Byrne what he felt was a well-deserved raise.

“The difference between what I billed every week, and what I took home seemed unfair,” he says. “That’s why I decided to start my own business. I wanted to keep more of the money I was making for the company. I also don’t like being told what to do and where to go. I never liked having a boss.”

He set out to build a business in which he would provide the best commercial refrigeration service possible for the countless food service companies, restaurants, bars, schools, hotels, refrigerated warehouses, and prisons that dot the area in and around Chicago and Mundelein.

“There are literally dozens of reasons why Chicago is a great place to do refrigeration work,” Byrne exclaims. “There are thousands of potential customers. But one of the best reasons to work in the refrigeration trade is all the beautiful views we get to catch from rooftops across Chicago. Working in the trade is an adventure, every day. We may start off working in a max security prison, and end up working on a cruise ship docked at Navy Pier. You never know what the day will bring.”

Byrne’s passion for the region was publicized recently in a new survey conducted by Emerson Climate Technologies to find the “Top 10 States to Work in HVACR” (see Illinois ranked fifth, but it’s first on Byrne’s list.

“We believe Illinois provides a superior advantage when it comes to a potential customer base and great networking opportunities,” Byrne was quoted in the survey. “When you consider all Chicago has to offer — like thousands of businesses in need of refrigeration and HVAC, we find it hard to believe there’s a better state to work the trade in.”

Always Learning

Byrne is a perpetual student of new refrigeration technologies and procedures. Most recently he's been proceeding with R22 refrigerant retrofits, as R410A and other refrigerants become the norm, and R22 is gradually phased out. He’s also introduced his customers to new technologies, including: the KE2 evaporator control by KE2 ThermSolutions, Washington, MO; evaporator fan controls by Functional Devices, Inc., based in Russiaville, IN; Plainview, NY-based Intellidyne Intellicon-RU’s refrigeration economizers; Emerson XJ Copeland Scroll compressors; Copeland K5 compressors; LED lighting for refrigerated cases; and Freeaire Refrigeration Systems, Waitsfield, VT.

Byrne believes Northeast Cooling’s specialty lies in its “refrigeration only” motto.

“This allows us to carry a better supply of stock for repairs, than would a company incorporating HVAC and ‘hot side’ repair services. Our trucks are fully loaded with common replacement parts for refrigeration and ice machines only. We also carry every refrigerant used in today’s equipment, including replacements for R12 & R22.”

Specializing in refrigeration has helped Mitch Byrne build a reputation as a highly-skilled refrigeration repair expert, rather than a “Jack of all trades.” Add to that his reliability, availability, trustworthiness, and commitment to social media and communication, and you have a business owner doing great work in and around Chicago — “his kind of town” —his kind of way.

Visit to see a smaller company doing big things right. You can follow Mitch Byrne on Twitter — he's a marathon Tweeter, by the way —at @refrigeration.