What do Microsoft, CNN, General Electric and FedEx have in common? Apart from being household names, each of these businesses was started during a recession. We talked to several local entrepreneurs who started their businesses during the most recent slump. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be the next to make it big!
LAURA BERGMANN TEXTILES
Who says fabric has to be flat? It’s a notion that textile designer Laura Bergmann defies with every fabric she creates. Inspired by everything from couture fashion to origami, her textiles integrate folds and pleats for an intricate look.
After earning a master’s in English from Washington University, Bergmann worked in higher education and marketing before she found her calling. “I wanted to stay home with my kids, and if I could do anything and start it myself, I knew it would be related to interior design.” She created a design portfolio and sent it to Crate & Barrel, and has been a product designer for the company’s Land of Nod kids’ line for eight years. More recently, Bergmann decided she needed a new challenge— which is how her newest venture began. She was inspired by the intricate folds of fabric sometimes used in couture fashion. “I would never buy a gown like that because I would just put it in the closet,” she says. “I want it to be art that I can live with and see every day.”
Currently, her textiles are available at Design & Detail, a trade showroom in Maplewood. In the coming weeks, she will launch a line of pillows, wall art and upholstered pieces at Niche, a home furnishing store downtown. “Sometimes I think What if this fails and goes up in smoke tomorrow?” she says. “I’ll have no regrets, because I challenged myself and created beautiful things.”
CHILL FROZEN YOGURT
The Komans take the phrase ‘family business’ very seriously. Amy and Bill Koman opened Chill Frozen Yogurt in 2010 with a lot of input from their three co-owners and daughters, and the girls continue to be a driving force in the business.
Nicole, 13, Laine, 11, and Blaire, 10, have a lot to say about the enterprise, which started with one store and now has three locations. “Our frozen yogurt is made naturally by a local dairy,” Blaire says. “We get it fresh three times a week.” More than 50 frozen yogurt flavors are on offer, plus 10 sorbets. Although the family has moved to San Diego, the girls remain very hands-on, Amy Koman says. She adds that each flavor is custom-made for the stores and is approved by the whole family in a tasting panel before it’s added to the menu. Even the hot fudge is made from a family recipe provided by the girls’ aunt, Laine says, and is made fresh weekly. “Every time we come in town, we try the sea salt caramel and the hot fudge to make sure it’s the way it’s supposed to be,” she adds. The girls also have collaborated with Hollyberry Catering to create the Chillwich, a frozen yogurt and cookie sandwich; and a portion of each store’s profits benefits Friends of Kids with Cancer.
Despite the many tasting sessions, the girls have found that running a business is not all fun and games. “I’ve learned how much work it takes to open a small shop,” Nicole says. “I didn’t think it would take that much organizing because it’s just frozen yogurt, but really it’s more complicated than that. It’s my first step to thinking about what I want to do when I’m older.”
The recession became an opportunity for Jeff Zornes, who had a career in commercial real estate but took a chance during the slump to start a new venture. “Jeff ’s a great cook, a great griller,” says his wife Stephanie Zornes, who took over Cowboy Ribeyes when her husband returned to real estate. “We’ve both always loved food. I have a brother who is a chef and a sister who’s a dietitian.” She herself is a retired teacher who also previously ran a catering business.
A love of food certainly helped in starting the business that sells bone-in, aged Black Angus beef, known as Cowboy Ribeyes. “Everybody would remember when they had their first Cowboy Ribeye; it’s a memorable type of steak,” Zornes says. “They have a rib bone sticking out, and it’s because they’re on the bone that they’re so tender. They’re hand-cut by a butcher, not by a machine.” The company also includes cooking instructions with each order. “When you get a steak that’s so good, you want to make sure it’s cooked just right,” she says.
Zornes says one thing that really helped the business starting out was a quality website. That, with the addition of social media and a good wordof- mouth business, has helped the company grow. Holiday and corporate giving are the company’s mainstays, she adds. “I have a whole list of repeat customers, and they’ll often send someone else,” she says. In the coming months, she hopes to expand the line to include high-quality strip steaks. “We’re planning to have more options for the holidays.”