Welcome to the My Chicago Podcast!

My Chicago is a podcast that explores the businesses, stories, and people that make Chicago great. Host Carrie Rubin interviews the entrepreneurs behind local small businesses in Chicago and shares their behind-the-scenes stories and the rollercoaster of keeping their business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest episodes are below or you can listen on your favorite podcast provider: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. New episodes every Friday!

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Ludlow Charlington’s with Naji Al-Awar

Ludlow Charlington’s with Naji Al-Awar

I stumbled upon today’s featured business on Instagram. It had a clever name, a good cause, and a fun look and feel to it, so I reached out to invite them to be on the podcast. In this episode, Ludlow Charlington’s Coffee Shop owner Naji Al-Awar shares why he ventured to open the shop at the beginning of August, how the shop got its name, why they share 50% of their merchandise sales proceeds with the FCACC (Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control), and about the conscious sourcing and sustainability efforts of their business. I stopped by earlier this week to stop by the shop, located at 2425 N. Clark Street to snap some photos and grab an iced single-origin coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed both the shop and my drink! So grab a mug and have a listen to my interview with Naji from Ludlow Charlington’s!

In Naji’s interview we discuss:

  • The unique theme of the coffee shop
  • A bit about their pit bull Cora that they got from CACC (Chicago Animal Care and Control) and and why they chose to raise money and awareness for the organization that supports it FCACC (Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control) 
  • Why Naji chose to exit the film industry and open a coffee shop just a few short weeks ago
  • Sustainability efforts and a bit about the vendors they chose to support this cause: Counter Culture Coffee, Kilgus Farms Dairy, and compostable disposable goods
  • Pandemic effects on opening his business 
  • An overview of the beverages and food they offer
  • The origin of the name of the business

Naji’s nominations

Naji wanted to give a shout out to his Lincoln Park neighbors on Clark for supporting his business as they opened:

Ludlow Charlingtons Coffee
2425 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614

Instagram: @ludlowcharlingtonscoffee
Facebook: @LudlowCharlingtons

Birch Road Cellar with Kim Bosse

Birch Road Cellar with Kim Bosse

Today’s guest is another entrepreneur I met at the networking event I discussed last week. Kim Bosse actually hosted the event at her space, Birch Road Cellar and today’s episode is all about this incredible space and super unique business. In this episode, Kim discusses creating this members-only “neighborhood clubhouse” BYOB club back in 2014 and how they chose each of their locations: the first in Lincoln Park at 1113 W Armitage, followed by the space at 2002 W Roscoe in Roscoe Village, and lastly, a space in Seattle when her business partner moved there in 2019.

We dig into the details of what is included in membership and how Birch Road Cellar differs from a traditional private club as well as some of the events the club hosts for its members. I must say, the space is beautiful and I definitely would love to hang there. Listen in to hear more about the company and perks of membership from Kim Bosse from Birch Road Cellar…

Birch Road Cellar Logo

In Kim’s interview we discuss:

  • Why Kim and her business partner Sharon opened Birch Road Cellar in 2014 and how they came up with idea of a BYOB membership-based “neighborhood clubhouse” as an alternative to a bar
  • Benefits of having a separate space like Birch Road Cellar for socializing – “gathering simplified”
  • Membership levels, fees, and benefits as well as differences from a traditional private club
  • Choosing locations in Chicago and expanding to Seattle and a bit about each of the three clubs
  • Pandemic effects: closing the clubs, virtual events, and how members continued to support Birch Road through the tough times

Kim’s nominations

  • Bottles’ Up – 3164A N. Broadway (Lakeview) Melissa Zeman – wine store
  • Off Premise – 1128 W Armitage Ave (Lincoln Park) Adam – great whiskey and craft beer selection

Birch Road Cellar
1113 W. Armitage Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614

2002 W. Roscoe Street
Chicago, IL 60618
(312) 715-7774

Facebook // Instagram

Memoir for Me with Nora Kerr

Memoir for Me with Nora Kerr

I met today’s entrepreneur at my first in-person networking event since COVID back in June. I’ve been a member of Chicago Moms in Business for a while and I’ve met quite a few of the guests on this podcast via that group. It was so exciting (and a bit weird to be honest, since it had been so long) to be able to meet some new people face to face! I had a short couple-minute conversation with Nora Kerr from Memoir for Me as I was headed out the door and I knew I’d want to have a longer chat to learn more about her business so I invited her to be a guest on the podcast. 

Nora and her team interview people’s loved ones and turns the transcripts from those conversations and family pictures into a beautiful legacy storybook to share with generations to come. Even though this is a bit different from my usual interviews on this podcast as she doesn’t have a storefront, I wanted to share it because this kind of thing is totally my jam, and wholeheartedly believe in the importance of capturing your family’s memories. Listen in to hear more about why she started the business and what kinds of packages she offers.

In Nora’s interview we discuss:

  • A little about the services that Memoir for Me offers and how Nora and her team creates keepsake memory books that include both stories and photos about a loved one
  • How Nora came up with the idea for her business in 2015
  • The free resources and tools available on her website for how people who can’t invest in her services can capture their loved ones stories
  • The effect COVID had on her business
  • When the best time is to start the process of capturing your loved one’s stories

Nora’s nominations

Nora chose a few photo organizers that she works closely with to help her tell stories:

Memoir for Me
Instagram: @memoirforme
Facebook: @memoirforme

Bucktown Pub with Autumn Giltner

Bucktown Pub with Autumn Giltner

I absolutely loved today’s guest: Autumn Giltner, the general manager of Bucktown Pub, located at 1658 W Cortland Avenue in Bucktown.  She had liked a few of the things I had posted on Instagram, and I decided to reach out because I was super curious about how a bar fared over this past year and a half. She was such an interesting person to talk to and had a lot to share about the bar’s history, navigating the COVID-19 restrictions, neighbors supporting the bar and each other, and hospitality-related challenges post-pandemic. I really am looking forward to hopefully getting out to Bucktown Pub for a Trivia Night and to have the chance to meet Autumn in real life and have a drink and a good conversation! Enjoy today’s interview…

In Autumn Giltner’s interview we discuss:

  • Autumn’s history with Bucktown Pub and a little about the vibe at the bar
  • Some of the history and neighborhood lore about the bar
  • Supporting neighborhood charity events
  • How they fared during the pandemic without having a kitchen and how they bridged the gap during the 6 months the bar was shutdown
  • Challenges with masking, constantly changing restrictions, and other covid-related issues
  • Coming together to support neighbors and neighborhood small businesses
  • Getting back to a new normal and challenges with finding staff to be able to be open at full capacity

Autumn’s nominations

  • Mabel’s Table – restaurant located at 1655 W. Cortland St in Bucktown (I love this place too!)
  • The Map Room – (Laura, owner) bar & coffee shop at 1949 N. Hoyne Ave in Bucktown
  • Lemming’s – a bar at 1850 N Damen Ave in Bucktown

Bucktown Pub
1658 W Cortland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 394-9898
Instagram: @bucktownpub

Spynergy with Liza Solberg

Spynergy with Liza Solberg

Today’s featured business was nominated by Melissa Talleda from Zen Yoga Garage and I’m so glad she did! I had taken spin classes at Spynergy, located down an alley at 1632B W. Division Street in Wicker Park in the past and absolutely loved the vibe, music, and workout that I experienced there. In this episode, owner Liza Solberg shares the story of how she started Spynergy Chicago in 2018 after teaching for several years at her mom’s flagship Spynergy studio in Winnetka. We also dig into how they managed through COVID-19 restrictions, coming up with creative solutions to keep teaching virtually and how the garage door in the studio was of great benefit during the pandemic. I thought it was brilliant! I’m excited to share this with you… now, I need to go book my next spin class. Enjoy!

In Liza’s interview we discuss:

  • How Spynergy came to be with her mom and aunt starting their first location in Winnetka 20 years ago
  • The vibe Liza was going for in creating the Chicago Bucktown location of Spynergy when she opened in 2018 and the unexpected benefit of having a garage door for fresh air
  • Closing the studio during COVID due to city restrictions, including creative ideas for keeping classes going when it was closed and having virtual classes
  • A bit about the types of classes Spynergy offers 
  • The story behind mural on the side of the building

Liza’s nominations

  • Free Mvmt Shop – 1655 W Division St – fitness boutique focusing on all kinds of movement, mostly dance based
  • Rhine Hall Distillery (2010 W Fulton St in Fulton Market) – her cousin and uncle’s business 
  • Steely Boutique  – clothing boutique located at 1730 W Division in Wicker Park – Sam (old neighbor)

1632b W Division 
Chicago, IL 60622

Purple Monkey Playroom with Jessica Roubitchek

Purple Monkey Playroom with Jessica Roubitchek

Purple Monkey Playroom, located at 2040 N Western Avenue in Bucktown was actually on my initial list when I dreamed up this podcast because I suspected that a playroom would have had a really difficult time staying afloat during the pandemic. Additionally, I had known the owner, Jessica Roubitchek from a couple of Facebook groups that I am in. I am glad to hear that they made it through, and you’ll hear more about how in the interview. It was also interesting to hear how she pivoted her business model a bit to make sure she and her staff as well as their patrons felt comfortable having parties and getting their kids out to play during the pandemic. I took my kids to Purple Monkey when they were young and it’s such a great space! Jessica is so fantastic… I’m excited to share this episode with you!

In Jessica’s interview we discuss:

  • How Purple Monkey Playroom was able to survive the pandemic and the wonderful support of the community, including a Go Fund Me campaign
  • Starting Purple Monkey and why she chose starting a playroom business as her venture after business school
  • If being an entrepreneur and starting her own business is what she thought it would be
  • Why she ended up opening Aubergine, an event space, in Logan Square
  • The current state of her business given that there still are some COVID-related restrictions as kids aren’t yet vaccinated: private playtime, parties, cleaning, masks, scheduling time, etc

Jessica’s nominations:

  • Bucktown Music – 1890 N Milwaukee Ave in Bucktown, child and adult music classes – Jessica Solares 
  • Irazu – another vote for this great Costa Rican restaurant in Bucktown, check out the My Chicago Podcast interview with Henry Cerdas here!
  • Virtu –  2035 N Damen in Bucktown, a gift boutique with handmade jewelry & artisan ceramics, wood, textiles, paper & metal, owner Julie Horwitz Jackson
  • Color Wheel Studio – 2034 N. Damen Avenue in Bucktown – fine art classes for adults

Purple Monkey Playroom
2040 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 772-8411

Through The Body with Stephanie Escobedo

Through The Body with Stephanie Escobedo

We have another fantastic fitness studio featured on the podcast today: Through the Body, located at 1819 W Grand Avenue in West Town. Owner Stephanie Escobedo shares why she started this dance-centric fitness studio in 2016 and why creating a “fitness misfit” Belle Gang community was important to her. I had taken her Hellz Bellez class several years ago, which we discuss a bit at the very beginning of the interview and as a rock and 80’s music fan, I absolutely loved the strength training workout set to hair band rock! Stephanie is a ton of fun, and I know you’ll love getting to know her as much as I did. Enjoy this interview with Stephanie Escobedo from Through the Body!

In Stephanie’s interview we discuss:

  • Starting Through the Body in 2016 and the inspiration for creating a fitness studio centered around dance
  • The types of classes offered at Through the Body, including classes for kids
  • A bit about their space at 1819 W Grand Avenue in West Town
  • Stephanie’s favorite class to teach and a bit of detail about what to expect
  • Challenges around teaching fitness classes virtually during COVID and other pandemic pivots
  • Events they hosted for the Through the Body community both virtual and in-person
  • Making sure they were COVID-safe once they were able to re-open in-person
  • Why also building a community with and for her clients has been an important part of her business

Stephanie’s Nominations:

  • Itty Bitty’s Doggy Day Care – 1040 W 18th Street in Pilsen, specializes in small dogs – Stephanie’s mother in law
  • Studio 836 – a nail studio at 836 N Damen Avenue in West Town – Martha
  • Sol – 1651 W Chicago Avenue in West Town – specializes in smoothies and teas, great post workout fuel!

Through The Body
1819 W Grand Ave Ste 201
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 630-5883
Instagram: @throughthebody

Catalyst Movement Arts with Andrea Caines

Catalyst Movement Arts with Andrea Caines

Today’s business is one that I suspect many of you might be curious to learn about – a pole dancing fitness studio! Andrea Caines from Catalyst Movement Arts at 2100 W. Grand Avenue in West Town is here to talk about starting the studio with her business partner David Owen, how pole dancing might be different from what you’d expect, and some of the benefits over and above the physical fitness aspect of the workout. I have tried pole dancing classes in the past, and I can definitely vouch for the upsides she discusses in the interview! I will have to stop by Catalyst to give it another go, as it’s been several years since I’ve taken a class. Have a listen to the interview below!

In Andrea’s interview we discuss:

  • Starting Catalyst Movement Arts with her partner David in 2017
  • What they were trying to create when they started the studio
  • Benefits of pole dancing over and above the physical fitness
  • What someone new to pole dancing can expect in a class at Catalyst
  • The biggest benefits that Andrea has personally gained through her pole dancing journey
  • Classes available at Catalyst and other services
  • How they fared during the pandemic and unexpected upsides of having to shut down

Andrea’s nominations

Catalyst Movement Arts
2100 W. Grand Avenue
Suite 3B
Chicago, IL 60612

Escape Artistry with Maren Rosenberg

Escape Artistry with Maren Rosenberg

I really enjoyed chatting with today’s entrepreneur, Maren Rosenberg from Escape Artistry. She’s really funny, a great storyteller and her theatre background is definitely apparent as she shares the story of her taking over Escape Artistry in 2015 and what all is involved in creating the six different escape rooms located at 1579 and 1342 N Milwaukee Avenue in Bucktown. I love her passion and appreciation for the arts and the artists that make Chicago so great.

P.S. Don’t you love the post-escape photo of my family completing the Railcar room? We were in the middle of saying “choo-choo” when it was taken so we all have pretty goofy expressions on our faces! LOL

In Maren Rosenberg’s interview we discuss:

  • Her beginnings as an escape room zombie, then moving into management for the owner who started the first-ever escape room in Chicago in 2015, then ultimately taking over the business
  • Challenges with the city and permitting/licensing because escape rooms were a new type of business
  • Opening additional escape rooms with other investors in 2016 in a second location, right when the escape room market got saturated in Chicago
  • Buying out the investors in 2019
  • Navigating the covid related restrictions and finding new sources of revenue
  • Scrambling to create a virtual experience and the challenges around that
  • Maren’s second full-time job as the Co-Artistic Director of Uprising Theater
  • What is involved in designing new escape rooms and what sets Escape Artistry apart from their competitors (there is a lot more involved than you’d realize!)
  • Maren’s passion for supporting the arts and artists and why she encourages others to do so as well

Maren’s Nominations:

Escape Artistry
Flatiron Arts Building
1579 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
Third Floor, Room 350

1342 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
Second Floor

Irazu with Henry Cerdas

Irazu with Henry Cerdas

I love local businesses and especially those that are the epitome of the American Dream – and the story behind Irazu Costa Rican food. located at 1865 N Milwaukee Ave in Bucktown is definitely that! In this episode, I have a chat with owner Henry Cerdas, and he shares the story of his parents starting the restaurant in 1990 as well as all of the ups and downs the business has endured over the years, and certainly including the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, Irazu was the recipient of Dave Portnoy’s Barstool Fund as well as quite a bit of media attention (rightfully so!), including a national Google print and video ad campaign among many others that helped them stay afloat. I hope you enjoy his inspiring story as much as I did!

In Henry Cerdas’ interview we discuss:

  • The history of Irazu – Henry’s parents leaving Costa Rica to pursue the American Dream and the steps that led to opening the restaurant in 1990
  • Where the name Irazu came from and why it proved to be a stumbling block and other challenges his parents overcame in the early days of the restaurant
  • What Costa Rican cuisine tastes like and what ingredients you can find in the restaurant’s dishes
  • A little bit of history about Costa Rica and what the slogan ‘Pura Vida’ is all about
  • His parents retiring in 2006 and Henry taking over the business and his thoughts about his son taking over when he retires
  • Challenges over the past year and being a recipient of the Barstool Fund in January 2021
  • Creating the Barstool Fund application video and getting the call from Dave Portnoy congratulating him
  • Details behind the Google national print and video ad campaign with Google featuring Irazu
  • Responding to the changing covid restrictions for restaurants
  • Henry’s shares his gratitude for all of the support during the pandemic

Henry’s Nominations:

Check out these videos!

Irazu Costa Rican Food
1865 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-5687