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. Its 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 Buffas 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 were 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 theyre 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. Daves had two cookies.
You gave him my cookie, I complained.
Daves 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 Im very A.D.D.
He hit a major hot button. I dont see that. I think we often take creative kids, label them, and really its a disorder with the school system. Some kids dont learn sitting still for six hours. Theyre 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. Im hyper-visual.
If you had had a (visual) method you could have done better?
I probably would have excelled.
And now youre 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 wasnt 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 didnt 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.
Im enjoying the aroma, he laughed again.
What are the positives and negatives of the business?
Ive gained weight. Stress. Im 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, Im cautiously optimistic. I like to believe Im 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? Weve 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 wifes largest disappointment is were not more health-oriented. Wed 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 its 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. Thats like craziness. You know time freedom has a price tag. I really dont think Im 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