Lunch with Marjorie: Visualizing is believing

The aroma of freshly baked bread drew me in. I had agreed to lunch at Bagels & More in Beloit. It was the sensible way to get its owner, Dave Siekierski, to spare an hour.

He ordered his portabella sandwich. “It’s grilled portabellas on 100 percent sesame-bagel with Swiss cheese, grilled onion and green pepper,” he said.

My choice was California pie.

Dave was born and raised in Beloit.

“Were your parents in the food business?”

“My mother was a Buffa. My grandfather started Buffa’s Supper Club in South Beloit during the Great Depression.”

“The Depression! Bootlegging?” I moved closer for the answer.

“Well…” he chuckled, “right at that era. They went for three generations before (the club) suffered a major fire that closed it for good. It was a trend in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Now we’re moving more into café-bistros…a little more intimate…upscale. I thought about (naming) this State Street Market or Bistro. People comment about us being like Madison or Chicago. They feel like they’re in a big city…the colors, the design, and along with that, pricing. I like to believe that you can create a buzz by your price. Having a price point that is too low represents low quality.”

“So in a pinch, others have to cut corners to keep prices lower,” I said.

“I would rather have my price…at a price point that attracts decision-makers.”

Our lunch arrived. Dave’s had two cookies.

“You gave him my cookie,” I complained.

Dave’s belly laugh is contagious.

“What were your interests in high school?” I asked.

“Very little,” he chuckles. “I barely graduated. I have a lot of issues about school…I’m very A.D.D.”

He hit a major hot button. “I don’t see that. I think we often take creative kids, label them, and really it’s a disorder with the school system. Some kids don’t learn sitting still for six hours. They’re bored.”

“I would totally agree with you,” he said.

“I get upset medicating kids en masse.”

“(Medicating) the world!” he corrected. “And most of them are male. Our school systems are getting better at learning this. There are people who learn through hearing; others are visual; others need touching. I’m hyper-visual.”

“If you had had a (visual) method…you could have done better?”

“I probably would have excelled.”

“And now you’re running a successful business.”

“Yes, for nine years.”

“How did you evolve?”

“I had a way of visualizing things. I saw a niche in this market that wasn’t happening. I visualized it working before I opened up the doors.”

He was 28 when he opened the business.

“I worked for Regal-Beloit for 12 years as a general laborer. I was literally bored to tears. Trust me, they were good to me…supplied a great income for my family. But, being on an assembly line…putting parts on, day in and day out, was way more than I could mentally handle. When I got an opportunity to work in the office…inside sales…that was a huge turning point. I said, ‘I know that I know that I can do a lot of this.’ They didn’t see that potential. That is when I made the decision to break out on my own and work for myself.”

I watched his portabella getting cold.

“I’m enjoying the aroma,” he laughed again.

“What are the positives and negatives of the business?”

“I’ve gained weight. Stress. I’m trying to…take a walk every day. By far, the most fun part of the job is getting to know all the unique individuals.”

“And five years from now?”

“As always, I’m cautiously optimistic. I like to believe I’m optimistic about the future…looking ahead for opportunities. Last year was our best year ever. You (ask yourself) what are we going to have to do to build on 2004…to bring more customers in the door? More outside catering? More corporate catering? Expand to our upstairs? Maybe even to another location? We’ve kicked that around.”

“I wish we had a place that does juicing,” I said, hopeful that I could influence somebody to do this.

“We actually thought about doing that. My wife’s largest disappointment…is we’re not more health-oriented. We’d like to do fresh fruit smoothies. We looked at the labor intensity of it…the lack of appreciation. It made us go…pre-packaged. But it’s not what we would like to have.”

Dave has many ideas for growing his business.

“The thought process of having another location with a drive through is intriguing. But I like my time freedom right now. That’s like craziness. You know time freedom has a price tag. I really don’t think I’m willing to give that up for a dollar bill.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

From the May 4-10, 2005, issue

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