A Look Behind the Scenes with Local Women Entrepreneurs & Small Biz Owners
Yes! We know that Women Making History month is in March but we happen to believe that history is made the other 11 months too!
This month, we caught up with a cross section of our local women-owned businesses and organizations to get a pulse on all of the ways they are leading, learning, growing, and overcoming the challenges of entrepreneurship.
Maplewood Deli & Coffeehouse
Axiom Design & Engraving
Asador Del Sur
Clarity Street Realty
The Blue Duck
Law Offices of Joan M. Swartz
Jennifer Q. Williams
Saint Louis Closet C0.
In a nutshell, what is your story to becoming an entrepreneur?
A few years before I started Brunette Games, I was at a happy hour in Seattle, talking smack with a bunch of tech types, and I declared that somebody needed to form a studio made up of game writers. A woman at the table looked at me dead serious and said, “If you do, I will come work for you.” That stayed with me, so when some games I worked on as a freelancer took off, bringing hordes to my door, I turned the opportunity into Brunette Games. We’re now a team of five.- Lisa Brunette, Brunette Games
While in undergraduate school I worked for 2 years under a financial advisor. This taught me a great deal about the importance of saving and investing at a young age, as well as the impact financial security has on others. I had always been passionate about people, problem solving and found that I had the aptitude for financial planning. Out of college and graduate school I went into a different field that involved travel, long hours and limited work/life balance. As a single mom I needed to take control of my schedule and re-entered finance. Nearly a decade later, I have developed a client base of individuals, multiple generations of families and business owners who I have personal relationships with, helping them all build and protect their financial security and navigate changes in their own lives while having flexibility for my own family’s needs.- Jennifer Hansell, Edward Jones
Growing up, the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls and fresh bread baking often woke me up early in the morning, and family meals were gatherings where friends were always invited.- Kara Sullivan, Flavor 360
Fate. Simply fate. Mystic Valley is a family business and started working for full time for my father when I was 20. At that time working for my dad was the plan. After his unexpected passing less than 6 months later of me coming to work full time, that all changed. My sisters and I became entrepreneurs practically overnight. –Kristy Ponticello, Mystic Valley
I was definitely born with an enterprising spirit. Before I was old enough to go to school, I set up shop in front of my parents’ business selling my drawings and rocks (on some days earning more than they did). Fast forward a few years, and I was stocking my cardboard pencil box (remember those?!) with candy and doubling my allowance by opening “Lindsey’s Sweet Shop” for my classmates before the bell rang each morning. My entrepreneurship has taken on many forms since then, but I have absolutely found my place in the world with my real estate business. – Lindsey Reicheit, Compass Realty Group
I come from generations of business owners. So when I started my career, it was with the idea to learn and understand my trade from the ground up so that I would properly run my own business one day. – Wil Seyer, State Farm
I am an attorney; I started my career at a large firm in St. Louis. I decided I wanted to represent more small businesses and individuals. So I went on my own in 2000 to do just that, and have been operating my own law firm since. – Joan Swartz, Law Offices of Joan M. Swartz
If you could speak to a younger you, what advice would you give her?
I would tell a younger me to have a great work life balance and spend as much time as possible with your daughter and dogs. I would tell myself to put away my to do lists and agendas and just do what feels right. I would also tell myself that it’s okay to be fluffy. – Elizabeth Barnhart, Maplewood Deli and Coffeehouse
Focus on what you want, not what everyone else wants.- Kate Bethel, Maven
Believe in yourself even if others don’t. You must find your own path and keep going after what you want. – Chrissy Brown, Axiom Design & Engraving
Change and adversity can be unsettling, but you have the drive and confidence and will not fail. I wish I had made the change sooner. – Jennifer Hansell, Edward Jones
2 Things – Don’t take it personally. Business is business and sometimes you or others need to make TOUGH business decisions. NEXT, must to make time for joyful endeavors. It is SO easy in your pursuit for success to work 7 days a week and late hours etc etc. missing out on family time and events. Life is WAY too short, you MUST make time for you and those you love or you will end up with major regrets and heart break. – Carolyn Mantia, Clarity Street Realty
Sometimes it is ok to stop and take a breath. – Karmen Rayburn, The Blue Duck
Take risks; don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is not the opposite of success, but an important part of it. – Lindsey Reichelt, Compass Realty Group
What are the challenges facing your industry right now? How are you addressing them?
The challenges that I am facing are the amount of youth who need support. The pandemic has caused a lot of chaos and trauma and stirred up existing trauma. Youth are needing more support now than ever. We are growing and shifting to what is needed and working on providing more services. – Melissa Dierker, Complete Harmony
Besides COVID, we are a new theme restaurant so educating our Midwest patrons on our unique culture was a little challenging at first. Inflation has really affected our restaurant, but on a good note it has made us even more creative.
Maria Giamportone, Asador Del Sur
Food costs and labor shortages. We changed our model of service and monitoring menu pricing to keep things in line. – Karmen Rayburn, The Blue Duck
Like all food businesses, since COVID hit there are always new challengers that force us to innovate and change course – inflation and rising labor costs have really hit the food and restaurant industry hard and we are no exception. – Kara Sullivan, Flavor 360
Covid definitely made things harder. We had just moved into our shop the month before so we had to quickly come up with other ways to stay in business. We started selling custom designs online and that has not only kept us in business but led to other opportunities. We now have 2 sides to our business: corporate and gifts/décor. We try to just fill a need wherever we see it at the time. We are always pushing ourselves to learn new things and keep improving. – Chrissy Brown- Axiom Design & Engraving
Real estate is jam-packed with challenges, but that’s what I love about it. I love facing would-be obstacles head on and coming up with creative solutions. – Lindsey Reichelt – Compass Realty Group
The biggest challenge facing our industry is making legal services affordable and accessible to those in need, including small businesses. I am accustomed to tailoring our services and the scope of my work to the needs of small businesses. But this is the greatest challenge facing attorneys in the US.- Joan Swartz, Law Offices of Joan M. Swartz
What is your personal mantra, fight song, or anthem right now?
Put you mask on 1st! Like the flight attendant says, “in the event of an emergency, put your mask on before helping others”. You can’t help anyone if you are unconscious or dead, take care of you 1st! – Carolyn Mantia – Clarity Street Realty
You got this!! Especially now. Although gratitude is very important to me. I have so much to be grateful for. – Kristy Ponticello, Mystic Valley
We are always learning – Joan Swartz, Law Offices of Joan M. Swartz
Haha I’m not sure. I always have 14 songs playing in my head at once. – Kate Bethel, Maven
Not sure if it’s a mantra but my beliefs are to enjoy life to the fullest, travel, and respect Mother Earth. – Maria Giamportone, Asador Del Sur
Enjoy life now, no one is guaranteed a tomorrow – Karmen Rayburn, The Blue Duck
If the state of your business was a season (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall), which season would it be and why?
I would say our business is like the season of Spring. A time where it can storm and cause lots of destruction, but that rain can cause beautiful flowers and fruit to grow. – Melissa Dierker, Complete Harmony
Spring: Constant threat of a tornado, but things are blooming and new growth opportunities surround us. – Karmen Rayburn, The Blue Duck
Summer! We always focus on fresh, bright flavors that people can enjoy with family and friends. – Kara Sullivan, Flavor 360
I’d say we are St. Louis weather – Hot, Cold, Sunny, Rainy, Stormy, Snowy, Sleet, Hail, and everything in between all 365 days of the year!! What it’s like to be an entrepreneur, every day is different and brings new challenges. – Jennifer Q. Williams, Saint Louis Closet Company
Do you have mentors, or people that you admire or look to for navigating life and business? If so, who are they?
I think Gaston Acurio is a great Chef, He introduced the Peruvian cuisine to the world with a cool gourmet Japanese twist! – Maria Giamportone, Asador Del Sur
I can’t say that I have one particular mentor or someone I admire. There have been so many wonderful people through the years that have offered advice or help. Mostly I have always relied on myself and my sisters. Owning a metaphysical store, we always say it’s best to look within for guidance. –Kristy Ponticello, Mystic Valley
My father! He did not get pass the 2nd grade of a formal education. Thru perseverance, self guided education and travel he built his legacy that will touch generations to come. – Wil Seyer, State Farm
My landlord, Rob Birenbaum. My business neighbor, Nate Bonner. I bounce everything off them. -Kate Bethel, Maven
There are LOTS of them. But here are the 2 that come to mind. #1 is Sandy Hancock. The biggest thing she taught me making tough decisions is required. #2 is Kristy Ponticello. I dove into the metaphysical world headfirst with her guidance. – Carolyn Mantia, Clarity Street Realty
My husband and fellow Maplewood business owner, Matt Williams has been by my side since 1994 as a constant sounding board, mentor and supporter. We both began our businesses very young and have grown our businesses through the years leaning on each other’s strengths and experiences. – Jennifer Q. Williams, Saint Louis Closet Company
What’s up next for you?
I am not sure what’s up for me next, but I know that it will bring joy and smiles. – Elizabeth Barnhart, Maplewood Deli & Coffee House
Preparing for the holiday season, and releasing some new products for our customers! Maven is nothing without its customers and I sincerely appreciate the dedication my patrons have shown me over the last 15 years. It truly humbles me. – Kate Bethel, Maven
We are going to continue to grow. To find ways to keep putting yoga in action, and keep focusing on mindfulness. Showing up to advocate, protest, support, and grow. To keep our doors and hearts open to our community who needs us in more ways than just the typical sense of yoga. – Melissa Dierker, Complete Harmony
We have our products for sale in 3 local stores plus our main location where everything is made. We plan to keep creating new custom products for those stores and possibly more. We hope to partner with more local businesses to provide awards and branding. Our goal is to continue to grow and provide great service to all of our customers. – Chrissy Brown, Axiom Design & Engraving
In addition to Brunette Games, I also own Brunette Gardens, a website chronicling our award-winning garden right here in Maplewood, www.brunettegardens.com. That work started as a hobby; I just registered it as a separate business this summer.– Lisa Brunette, Brunette Games
Expand my office and work on more projects that reflect my legacy. – Wil Seyer, State Farm
Anything else you’d like to say?
My grandparents lived here in Maplewood and worked for Missouri Pacific Railroad, so a piece of my heart has always been in this neighborhood. It was truly my dream to own a business right here in Maplewood. – Elizabeth Barnhart, Maplewood Deli and Coffee House
I think I have repeated this so many times, but I have been so blessed to open my restaurant in such a great place like Maplewood. I want to believe that even in the middle of the pandemic when it is the worst case scenario that no one has planned for, I open a restaurant surrounded by the most caring strangers. I feel lucky and truly thankful for this amazing community stepping up the way they did, welcoming us with open arms and hungry stomachs. – Maria Giamportone, Asador Del Sur
We have always been a women owned business, with almost an exclusively female staff. While we are open to anyone who shares out passion for food, we really thrive on the energy and passion our team brings to the kitchen.- Kara Sullivan, Flavor 360
Giving back to the St. Louis community has been a priority, especially when it comes to the company’s charitable and civic endeavors. Saint Louis Closet Co. has installed closets at The Magic House, Maplewood Public Library, Joe’s Place, Forsyth School, Our Little Haven, and Friends of Wings. We have also supported Stray Rescue, Children’s Hospital, Fontbonne University, Forsyth School, The Maplewood Betterment Foundation, The Kirkwood Public Library, and Girls on the Run. – Jennifer Q. Williams, Saint Louis Closet Co.