It's not just a cookie. It's a TWISTED COOKIE

 Joana Fischer

Joana Fischer

What is it about baked goods and sweet smells that makes everything better? The first bite you get when you sample a new creation. It's magic. The magic continues in Forest Park. Read on. 

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Who: Joana Fischer

Where: Twisted Cookie

7401 Madison St., Forest Park, IL

708-689-8029

Tell me about you, how you’ve come to love desert and ultimately decide to open Twisted Cookie.

As a kid I would always rush through dinner just to get to dessert. I would of actually skipped dinner if I was allowed to! But beyond how good it all tasted, I was always intrigued by how it was made. I loved watching my mom and my grandmother every time they baked and was always eager to learn and go beyond what they did. I wanted to create my own versions of desserts.  Little did I know, that as an adult, I would end up in the desserts industry! When I started Twisted Cookie, I went with the idea that I wanted to create something new, something nobody had seen before. That's how the Cupcake Cookie came to be! I loved the idea of turning a cupcake into a cookie. From there, I did the same thing with pies... I turned them into cookies. It all started with one product in many flavors and eventually evolved to what it is today. I still like to bake some traditional items in my store, but my core items all have a "twist!"

How do you decide which desert and ingredient pairings to put on your menu?

All of my desserts are inspired by what I personally like to eat and what I can create first in my mind. Not all of my ideas turn out as good as I visualize. Sometimes, it's a long process to take them from an idea to a final product that you can taste, and hopefully say, "wow this is good!"

Why did you choose to open your business in Forest Park?

I decided on Forest Park because I love Madison street and everybody knows about it. You go to the city and mention Forest Park, and people instantly know the strip where all the restaurants and bars are located. I also loved the idea of working close to where I live.

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What has been the biggest downside? 

The biggest downside is not having enough hours in the day to execute all the ideas. Sometimes I feel like I'm not as productive as I should be in promoting my store. Besides baking and overseeing the whole operation, there are other very important aspects that need everyday attention in the marketing of a business. I have an amazing team that help bring it all together on a daily basis, but at the end of the day it's my responsibility if certain things don't get done.

What advice would you give someone who wants to open a small business / restaurant in Forest Park? 

Do as much research as possible but don't get too caught up in it that you waste time. At the end of the day, the execution is what's most important. Yes, you are going to make mistakes, but you have to physically do it in order to learn. That's ultimately how you become successful, by taking a chance, believing in yourself and making it happen. People have ideas all day long on ways to start their own business, but the fact is that many never do it, it remains only an idea. Yes, it's always a risk, but it's a risk you take while you continue to educate yourself. Never stop learning. Don't be afraid to start, nobody knows it all.

sprinkles and friends

What are your three favorite menu items in Twisted Cookie right now?

My 3 personal favorite menu items are...

    1. Banana Pudding Cupcake Cookie

    2. Apple Pie Cookies Al a Mode

    3. Turtle Brownie Sundae

 

 

We are OBSESSED with Obsessed Kitchen and Bar

 Daniel & Trish Vogel 

Daniel & Trish Vogel 

What do you when a couple  met over their love of food, worked in the food business and decided to open a restaurant? You have Obsessed Kitchen and Bar. Yours truly is a MASSIVE fan of this place, its vibe and most importantly, their Brussel Sprouts. 

Say hello to your next neighborhood food obsession.

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Who: Trish and Daniel Vogel

Where: Obsessed Kitchen and Bar

800 South Oak Park Avenue

Oak Park, IL

Phone: : (708) 613-5044

Tell me about you two, how you’ve come to love food and ultimately decide to open a restaurant.  

We both come from families that loved good food. Trish grew up in Florida with parents that loved to cook and entertain.  She has a degree in Hotel Restaurant Management from Cal Poly Pomona and spent five years working at the Four Season in Newport Beach where she gained an incredible foundation/knowledge of fine service, food and beverage.  For the past 16 years, Tricia has been with Blue Plate Catering as a Sales Director.  In fact, that’s where Tricia and I met.  

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I’m a Korean born, adopted farm boy from Iowa, growing up with a farm to table focus.  Went to a small culinary school in South Pasadena.  Worked for some great chefs, in great restaurants, in really cool places.  Food is this great connector, it brings people together, think of any event in your history, and food has always been there.  I love how food makes you feel, something that is really good or even something that isn’t, it makes you feel things.  I love how it connects people, I love how it becomes a great debate:

Who has the best burger?  

Best tacos in the city?  

Best Korean BBQ?  

It’s one of the few times that we can agree to disagree with civility.  By the way, we have the best burger!!!!

We opened Food Obsession six years ago, it’s our premier catering company, but we always had in mind a restaurant, but it had to be the right location and the right time.  We had two or three different locations that we went back to over the past six years, but none of them were the right fit for us.  When this space became available we loved the size and especially the location.  Our kids go to school down the street at Ascension. This neighborhood is really special, it is our little corner in the world!

How do you decide which foods and pairings to put on the menu?
We change our menu every 10 to 12 weeks, always looking at seasonality and what is the best product we can get. We spend a lot of time just playing around, some of it ends up on the menu. The rule is if I would order it, it can end up on the menu.  

As for the wine and beer that goes on our menus, there’s a lot of tasting that’s involved -  it’s a tough gig but someone’s got to do it.:)  When we opened, we formed a “beer tasting advisory board” AKA, our friends. We tasted 75 beers to figure out what goes on the list.  We did the same with our wine list.  Our objective is always to find great tasting wines that won’t break the bank.  There’s so much good product out there, it allows us to continually to play around with our menus.  

Why did you choose to open your business in Oak Park?
Oak Park is where we live, where our kids are growing up, a family yet urban type of city.

Oak Park is a unique place, with it being so close to the city, but still a small community, we wanted to bring our style of restaurant to the community. 

What has been the biggest downside? 
The biggest challenge to opening a new restaurant is (1) what you think you know versus what you actually know.  (2) staffing is always a challenge, finding and retaining good people is always tough.  (3) the unknown day to day business is difficult.

What advice would you give someone who wants to open a small business / restaurant in Oak Park?   

I would say don’t listen to the noise, I always hear how difficult the Village is, but we’ve always had nothing but good experiences when dealing with them.  Understand what you’re getting into, what you think you know versus what you learn is unbelievable.  Surround yourself with people smarter than you.  Also, be ready for a down turn in business after your honeymoon period is over and what you have to do to drive business.  The “if you build it, they will come” only works for a while.  

What are we known for?  

Definitely our Brussel sprouts and our Gluten Free Bread Pudding.  I would also say our Burger and Fries.  We keep changing the menu to reflect the season.

The Jewels at Gem Jewelry Boutique

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With a recent storefront move to Oak Park Avenue, we stopped by Gem Jewelry Boutique and got to know Laura a little better. There is something magical about picking up a unique piece of jewelry that not only lasts a long time, but has a story. Do yourself a favor and find some time to pop into Gem and get yourself a fabulous piece of jewelry - for Ladies AND Gents!

(Psst..you still have time to get there before Mother's Day!)

Friends, get to know Gem! We sat down for a little chat with Laura. 

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Who: Laura Kitsos, owner of Gem in Oak Park

Where: Gem Jewelry Boutique

135 North Oak Park Avenue

Oak Park, IL 60301

Phone: 708-386-8400

Email: info@shopgemjewelry.com

Tell me about you, and how you’ve come to love jewelry.

I have always had a love for jewelry.  When I was 7, I received a rock tumbling kit for Christmas and loved making a turquoise ring with it (even though it was quite hideous!). Later, my grandmother and I created a special bond over her jewelry boxes.  She had traveled to many places, my grandfather was a pilot and flew all over the place.  She had jewelry from everywhere.  This is how my grandmother remembered a place - with jewelry. 

She’d show me her Mississippi pearl pendant that she got when she went down south. The incredible charm bracelet she had with charms from all her life experiences and the places she went, including Germany from when she visited after I was born.:)

It was always a story; always a delight.  At the end, she’d usually hand a piece over to me and say “For you.”  
I still have much of it and cherish it all to this day.  As a young adult, I started making jewelry and selling jewelry to stores. I eventually opened up my own shop, mainly featuring my hand made creations.
 

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How do you select pieces for your collection?
 

I am always looking for new designers. Instagram makes it so much easier than it used to be, but I have also been attending trade shows in New York, Paris, Las Vegas and other places to keep up with the jewelry world. I may circle a new designer for a few years before I decide to buy.  It’s an investment.  I want to be sure that it is not only a good fit for the shop and my clients, but also something I truly appreciate and love.  I don’t sell jewelry that I would not wear myself!

 

Why did you choose to open your business in Oak Park?
It was random. I live here. I was driving around and saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of my first shop 14 years ago and called the number.  Two days later, I had a lease and was working on a business plan.  It wasn’t in 'the plan'. It was impulsive and naive but I’m so glad I followed my heart.
 

What has been the best downside?  

Is there a downside?  I mean. I am lucky. I get to do what I love and that’s the best part.  No job is perfect but I can not imagine myself doing anything else and that’s pretty great.

What advice would you give someone who would want to open a small business in Oak Park? 

Stop listening to all the nay sayers who say it’s hard to open a business here - it’s really not.  Although I didn’t need a liquor license or anything too difficult to build, it's always been a very welcoming community for me.  It was much more difficult for me to convince the historic committee that I wanted to build a wrap around porch onto my 135 year old house (I lost that one ). The people of Oak Park are amazing and diverse and I keep meeting new people all the time. A lot of the clients I had in Bucktown 7 years ago are now parents and have migrated here. It’s a great thing to see the couple you may have sold an engagement ring to then is now on their second child and looking for a Mother’s Day gift.

It’s all about the people when you’re in retail.

Co-existing: Small Business and Enterprise

As the daughter of immigrants and owners of independent businesses in and around Detroit, I have a soft spot for what it’s like to run a place. My father ran a tool & die shop. My grandparents ran a diner. My job at my dad’s place was to accompany him in the early summer mornings and clean tools. My job at my grandmother’s diner was to peel potatoes. That’s it. I was only allowed to peel potatoes. As an adult I learned the particular risks my father took to start the business. It took a work ethic that I hope was passed on to me--even at a minimum.

Through my corporate career, both on the consulting side and the working-for-someone-else side, I’ve volunteered in my communities and traveled the country speaking to family run businesses about using social media and digital tools to build awareness for their storefronts. Seven months pregnant with my first child, I traveled to the state of Washington, speaking to a series of small businesses through the Main Streets program. I’ve also traveled to Dubai and Macedonia, speaking to international groups looking to use social tools to sell more things to more people. 

Needless to say, I love using technology and online tools to bring people together in real life--whether it’s to say hello or buy something.

In the last few a years, I’ve watched independent businesses in Oak Park deal with a series of changes that are affecting the way their businesses function. Time and time again, I hear stories of independent shops on the verge of closing. Payroll can’t be made. Insurance can’t be secured. Taxes are too high. The list is endless. Meanwhile, there are no margins for additional marketing or advertising. For some businesses, marketing was never considered.  

Meanwhile, well-known chains and businesses are either opening in Oak Park or in the process of being built and discussed. Some small businesses supporters are up in arms on this latest Oak Park change and want to do everything possible to stop the trend.  

It seems that one important element is being missed here--the market. The shopper. The consumer. As more chains come into Oak Park, I see more citizens jumping for JOY for the opportunity to frequent places they know, miss or would like to go to more often.  And there’s nothing wrong with their excitement. The market determines success. The market determines what people want to buy, how they buy and how often they walk to any establishment. 

The other night, I went to new Cooper’s Hawk Oak Park location with my husband. For a Tuesday night, it was busy. We could not stop looking at our fellow wine drinkers to notice that the evening out was an occasion for many. Cocktail dresses, date nights and the like surrounded us.  Why? Because many of these people most likely already KNEW about Cooper’s Hawk before they opened their doors in Oak Park. They knew what to expect. They were happy to travel a short distance to a familiar place they enjoyed for a myriad of reasons. This is very important.

This means that Cooper’s Hawk spent time, money, sweat equity and various marketing ideas to build brand awareness and keep the consumer engaged. Yes, budgets are a big deal and the larger the entity, the larger the budgets. But how can small businesses learn from this?

Opening a storefront and selling widgets is one thing - especially if it is your life’s passion. But do people in the area really want that widget? Has the research been done? If the research has been done, what mechanisms will you put in place to reach out to NEW people while retaining the same consumer base - some of which may come back out of guilt (I hear this a lot). 

There is no right answer of the “one” thing that small businesses must do, but I do know this: it must be done constantly. Daily. From Facebook posts to Instagram searches to in-store events to paying for Facebook ads (yes, paying for ads) to looking up local influencers on Twitter - all of it should be done. And more. 

But that takes time.

This is why my husband and I started 68 Cents - a shopping program that rewards the consumer for shopping local more often, while providing another marketing channel to small businesses at Oak Park. An extension of this partnership includes helping local businesses with their social media efforts--at no additional cost. Reception from shoppers has been great. From a business standpoint, we are excited to see early adopters like Felony Frank’s on board with the idea. Soon, we hope to blanket Oak Park businesses with 68 Cents decals - letting shoppers know that they are part of the shopping program.

Small, independent businesses can co-exist alongside larger enterprises, but they need to incorporate new tactics to stay in the game.

Oak Park’s been known to be an innovative village -- a beacon for other municipalities to follow. We should continue to be that game changer.