A bouquet of freshly-picked flowers. (Champagne) breakfast in bed. Five minutes to breathe (or shower) without interruption. While these Mother’s Day gifts are all fine and dandy, here’s another way to celebrate Sunday, May 9: Support Chicagoland-based small businesses run by some of the coolest moms in town! Take a look at how these women balance creative careers and kids (while, in some cases, also creating all-new programming that helps your family thrive). . . during a worldwide pandemic.
Briana Beazley of Nadia Girl
Nadia Girl, owned by local mom Briana Beazley, makes tween clothing that not only feels and fits great but also helps girls feel more confident. All of the line’s designer duds are made of sustainable materials, with a portion of sales dedicated to organizations that empower girls through education.
“I began seeing my daughter struggling with her self-confidence while also being challenged to find her quality clothing that fits well,” shared Beazley. “I quickly learned that my daughter wasn’t alone. According to studies, girls as young as 9 often begin feeling insecure about themselves and their bodies. Poor-fitting clothing can make them feel even more self-conscious, insecure, and uncomfortable in their skin.”
How does Beazley manage mom-ing while running a sustainable tween fashion line? “I believe I balance running a creative business as a woman entrepreneur and being a mom probably the same way every other parent has to: I have learned to juggle. Some days are better than others! But my daughter really helps give me a great insight into the clothing her and her friends like and are looking for. And I’m incredibly grateful to have a daughter who is fairly self-sufficient now, which makes a big difference, especially when we are all at home!”
Jessica Roubitchek of Purple Monkey Playroom
I opened Purple Monkey Playroom when my daughter was just shy of turning two,” explained Jessica Roubitchek, owner of Bucktown’s fave playspace. “I made the decision to keep the nanny I had initially hired when my maternity leave ended, even though what I was able to pull from my brand-new business often didn't cover the cost of retaining her. It was an investment in the future of my business and was the only way that I could have made a go of it. I am happy to report that it was the right decision and that eight years later, we are still going strong.”
Purple Monkey is a bright, nurturing destination for young children, parents and caregivers, offering drop-in play times, parties and more. In this time of social distancing, they are currently offering small group and private playtime. They managed to sneak in a small design-on-a-dime renovation during COVID shutdowns, so they're excited to showcase their upgrades.
Kristen Flather of Makoshey
Tired of the same old tight, short, and sparkly clothing options for their three girls, Kristen Flather, together with her husband, Fred, started Makoshey, a clothing company that focuses on comfy, stylish and durable duds made to keep up with girls who want to climb, explore, invent, dream, run, play and create.
Makoshey’s t-shirts are proudly printed in Chicago, and feature an ideal blended fabric pairing a super soft feel with reliable durability.
Val Kahan of Art Makers Outpost
In 2019, Valerie Kahan decided she was done being torn between work and spending time with her kids. So she set out to build a business of her own: Art Makers Outpost, an environmentally conscious art makers-space for young artists and adults.
“I created Art Makers Outpost in part as a way to share creative, quality time with my kids. It’s a place where we can always be creating, side-by-side, as co-workers working on our own things, or on new art and ideas, together during closed hours. My kids often are the ones that come up with the project ideas for our classes!"
Randi Whitman of Frog Temple Pilates
Randi Whitman was a professional dancer in her 20’s when she ruptured a disc in her lumbar spine. “I tried everything to mend myself without surgery,” said Whitman. “Nothing was really doing the trick. Then, I discovered Pilates.”
Today Whitman teaches her clients how to strengthen their bodies as “a whole picture, vs. pieces and parts”, via Pilates, a form of low-impact exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. Her bright, airy Bucktown studio, Frog Temple Pilates, offers group classes, private and semi-private lessons, as well as massage therapy.
“Balancing being a mom and a small business owner is truly a challenge,” said Whitman. “My husband and I really take on sharing the responsibilities, of which I am grateful for! Carpools, homework, sports, recitals, playdates, not to mention cooking and keeping the house in order on top of running the business is extremely challenging, but I do love it. That is not to say I am not falling over exhausted at the end of the day. Both of my “lives” are my passions. I love what I do. I help so many people get their lives back every day.”
Anupy Singla of Indian As Apple Pie
Cookbook author and journalist Anupy Singla wears many hats. She’s the author of three books, including Indian For Everyone; a regular commentator on NPR; a culinary instructor at Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and Whole Foods Market and the founder of a fast-growing food and housewares company, Indian As Apple Pie. She’s also the mom of two girls.
“I began writing an Indian food blog to better feed my young girls and immerse them in Indian cuisine, something I still keep at the heart of everything I do, no matter how busy my days get. Even if my work world is spinning out of control around me, I always try to ensure that everything flows into the idea of having homecooked meal options for my family by day's end. That means spending time on a Sunday organizing my following week starting with recipe testing for the blog and my books. Once I have that covered and dinner planned out, it's so much easier to fill the rest of my hours with other key elements including product development, fulfilling orders, and social media posts and marketing. My most successful work and home weeks start with planning."
For Mother's Day, Singla suggests paying a visit to her website indianasapplepie.com, where on the home page you'll see links to three categories of products. Folks can purchase a cookbook (which Singla will personally sign upon request), a set of lentils, and a pack of spices or spice blends, “the perfect combination of gourmet tastes, culinary adventure, and health.” All of Singla’s spice blends are roasted and ground in the United States, uncommon for spice blends, and the Tikka Masala sauce is one of the few vegan sauces of its kind on the market.
Stephanie Hart of Brown Sugar Bakery
Stephanie Hart notes that opening her own business, Brown Sugar Bakery, in 2004, gave her more time to focus on being a mom. As she transformed from tech consultant to mompreneur, baking up her "dangerously delicious" cheesecakes, cupcakes, cobblers, cookies, pies and more at her Greater Grand Crossing bakery, she relished the extra time spent with her daughter. Her daughter is now a professional opera singer debuting at both the Lyric and Chicago Opera Theatre in 2019 while also still helping mom out with the bakery’s virtual branding strategy. Hart’s hard work paid off. She went on to open a second location, on Navy Pier, and was awarded America's Best Bakery on the Steve Harvey Show.
Brown Sugar Bakery prides itself on being a part of joyous family occasions and creating the taste of sweet memories. The bakery is best known for its specialty sweets, including sweet potato pie, peach cobbler and bread pudding as well as nearly 20 cake flavors, including German chocolate, red velvet, carrot and turtle.
Kathy Ryan of Goldfish Swim School
Countless Chicago kids have learned to swim in the shiver-free pools at Goldfish Swim School (Roscoe Village and Wicker Park), co-owned by local mom Kathy Ryan and her husband, Bob. Goldfish Swim School provides year-round swim instruction to children ages 4 months to 12 years-old in a unique setting with highly trained instructors, small class sizes (max 4:1 student to teacher ratio), shiver-free 90-degree pools, and a state-of-the-art water purification system. Families with children of different ages and skill levels can conveniently have all of their swimmers in the pool during the same half-hour time slot.
“Your kids get what they need from you even in these stressful times—whether I'm working or not, I aim to maintain a strong connection with my kids,” said Ryan. “There is a lot of social and emotional pressure right now, but no one has a map of how to handle this and we need to just remember to be kind to ourselves and others.”
Tai Kojro-Badziak of zpd+a
Tai Kojro-Badziak is a partner with zpd+a, a Chicago-based architecture firm with projects nationwide. “We focus on adaptive reuse, mixed-use/ multi-family new construction, hospitality, senior housing and some residential,” explained Kojro-Badziak. “We were aggressively expanding and considering hiring up to three new people at the beginning of March. . . and then everything was upended. I was watching the spread of COVID-19 since early January, and in early March we rapidly transitioned to a work-from-home scenario for our entire team a week before the official shelter-in-place orders. We have a home studio space that is now my architecture firm and a kindergarten classroom!
Running an architecture firm from home while simultaneously homeschooling isn’t for the faint of heart. “My secret to getting anything done is to write a list of targets for the day and the week, and focus on just a few each day. That happens on many levels, since we are managing the staff remotely, and that also includes everyone's energy and emotions. We make sure to have some laughs: a weekly office competition and happy hour chat for work, and long runs and bike rides for our family. And my husband and I make sure to take deep breaths, give each other and our 6-year-old the space to feel all the feels these days. No doubt, it's hard! But good communication, making art, taking hot baths, and wine are helping me through!”
Online at zpdarch.com
Liz Hansen of Chicago Boudoir Photography
When Liz Hansen founded Chicago Boudoir Photography studio, she aimed to offer a Victoria's-Secret-style photoshoot experience for the everyday woman. “Women in every stage of life and in every size and shape walk out of the boudoir studio feeling empowered and celebrated. I opened the photo studio because I believe that every woman is beautiful and that every woman deserves to feel confident through gorgeous portraits.”
Hansen also aimed to create a life that prioritized family. “One of the great things about owning my own business is that I get to customize the business to work for our family. My business focuses on a very personalized experience for each client, so I limit the number of photoshoots I do each month. This allows me to pamper my clients individually and also have family time. As with everything in life, there are always trade-offs, but I ultimately believe being an entrepreneur and business owner will set an example for my children that will help them achieve their goals in life—whatever those turn out to be!”
Sara Fisher & Caitlin Giles of 2 Moms Media LLC
Sara Fisher and Caitlin Giles founded 2 Moms Media LLC in 2011 after the dynamic mom duo realized a need to improve how brands reach moms. “Because we are moms and marketers ourselves, we can provide unparalleled expertise when it comes to connecting clients with their target audience of parents, women and other influencers,” said Fisher, mom of two boys. “We work with our clients to create and execute integrated marketing campaigns that deliver real results in line with strategy and budget.
Our services include media outreach, influencer management, grassroots marketing tactics, events, social media management, marketing analysis, brand positioning and more.”
“Our kids have really grown up alongside our business,” shared mom-of-three Murray Giles. “Over the past decade, it has been fun to have them involved in our work—whether it is helping out at a community event, working with us to assemble media boxes or excitedly reporting that their friends are planning to have their birthday party at a new business we are promoting. Every day is generally packed with work and kids' activities and we do our best to juggle it all—just like every working mom does!”
Monica Royer of Monica + Andy
A stop into Monica’s Monica + Andy shops (or a virtual website visit) should be a must-do on every mom’s shopping list. This mom created this oh-so-adorable kids’ and baby shop for the sole purpose of making things better for moms and their babies, focusing on everything from better fabrics to better ways to shop for them. From this simple concept grew a space where moms come together to not only shop, but bond at one of the many events that encompass singing, dancing, bubbles, music, yoga, laughter and learning. Best part? The larger events always have a charity that benefits.
Monica shared, "My mom explained to me once as a kid that she would always tell me what I needed to hear vs. what I wanted to hear. She said, You will have many friends in life but only one mom.” And her advice to young girls looking to carve their own paths, "Dream big, but know the path might be long. You will eventually get to where you want to go but don't be afraid to work hard doing and learning as much as you can in your 20's. It is not always about specific job duties. Interacting with people is sometimes where you find real learning.”
Melissa Salvatore of A Little Photo Studio
Growing up in Phoenix, Melissa thought she’d be one of two things: A photographer or she’d live on a farm, wear overalls every day and marry a guy named Bob. Well, some poor schmuck named Bob missed out, because, lucky us, she chose photography. But, as mom to Bennett (5) and Owen (1), she has managed to maintain that girl-in-overalls mentality, really taking the time to enjoy the simple pleasures in being a parent–bike rides to the lakefront, relishing in those quiet moments at home where her oldest says something mind-blowing or feeling pride when they take the time to interact and say hello to a stranger on the street.
Melissa's advice to young women is, ”I think it would be to say “it’s ok” - whatever path that you choose: Stay-at-home mom or working mom OR not a mom. I think women have created so many roles for themselves that they have to feel good about what they choose and not put so much pressure on themselves because you can’t have the best-designed home, be involved in every kid and school activity, be the most successful at your job . . . you have to let a few things go and leave room for different things to take the front seat at different times in your life."
Julie (Greenberg) Jenkins of Midnight Circus in the Parks
As a young girl growing up in Champaign, IL, Julie briefly thought she might be destined for a career in accounting. When she realized her skillset doesn’t include the ability to balance a checkbook, she swung her focus 180 degrees to being on the Muppet Show in any capacity at all. While that dream didn’t come to fruition either—your loss, Kermit!—she isn’t too far from hitting her target.
Julie is one-half of the husband and wife team that created Midnight Circus in the Parks. If you haven’t caught one of their traveling circus shows, you’re missing out! Not only will you see Julie, her husband, Jeff, and a close-knit group of professional performers, you’ll spot their son Maxwell (11) and daughter Samantha Rae (9) performing for over 15,000 people annually in parks all across Chicago. Serving as her greatest role models, Julie’s parents taught her the power of a good work ethic and the importance of giving to others—that as a society, we are only as strong as our weakest members. Putting that community mindset in motion, Midnight Circus in the Parks has raised over $900,000 for Chicago Public Parks to build play lots, provide new equipment and subsidize special programs for neighborhood parks.
— Amy Bizzarri