When Algonquin residents Joanne Shields and Pat Pfiefer each decided to start their own businesses, they knew the road ahead would not be easy. But they both knew it was something they had to try.
For Shields, 49, the idea of staring her own business was not a lifelong dream. As she started to feel burned out at her job, she read a motivational book that sparked an interest in starting her own business. Her husband, Joe, suggested she pursue it.
“He really supported me,” Shields said. “He told me, ‘Why don’t you try doing something you really like to do?’”
Shields always loved to cook and bake, so she considered starting a catering business. Then she decided to focus on salsa.
“There are so many different ways to use salsa,” she said.
She spent six months working on product development and created mild, medium and hot varieties. She then connected with a manufacturer who would make her product.
“Developing the recipe was a lot of trial error,” she said. “I use all fresh ingredients, but you have to cook them to make the product shelf-stable, and cooking alters the flavor.”
Her friends and family helped by tasting samples and providing feedback. For example, many people have told her that her medium and hot varieties could be even spicier.
“You have to perfect how much heat to put in each jar,” she said.
Shields also connected with a neighbor who offered to help her with graphic and website design. “Everything seemed to fall into place,” she said.
Shields, who sells her salsa at Jewel, Joe Caputo & Sons, Valli Produce and other area locations, hopes to expand the presence of her product. She is working with a food trader in Pennsylvania who has contacts with buyers in other countries, and she is currently in touch with a distributor in Dubai who is interested in her salsa.
Shields also plans to offer a pineapple salsa this summer, and she is working on a black bean and corn salsa for this fall. She also hopes to offer online sales in the future.
“I am working on building my capital,” she said. “I’ve taken big strides, but there are sometimes setbacks, too,” she said.
Shields spends time at grocery stores and area events offering samples of her product.
“You have to have determination, and you have to work hard,” she said. “You have to follow your passion and just keep at it.”
Shields, who has a 14-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son, tries to balance work with family.
“I work as much as I can when the kids are in school, and when they get home, I try to wrap things up and switch gears. I have missed many of my children’s events by having to do demos, but for the most part, it works out.”
Pat Pfiefer, 43, has also had to make sacrifices to ensure the success of his business. Pfiefer and his wife, Deanna, just had a new baby, and they also have a 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son.
“It’s been tough this year,” Pfiefer said. “There have been sleepless nights. But everything works itself out.”
Pfiefer studied restaurant and hotel management in college before working his way up to regional director at a Chicago meat packing company. He decided to start working on his own Italian beef and au jus recipe to see if he could start his own business.
“This seemed to be my niche,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is something I have to do for myself.’”
Pfiefer developed a 6-pound Italian beef kit that includes precooked beef and a separate pack of au jus sauce.
“Other companies use a soup base for their au jus,” he said. “But mine is with beef, fat and spices.” He later added a 3-pound kit for smaller servings.
That’s Pat’s then developed a giardiniera, a relish used to top Italian beef sandwiches.
“That was the best thing we ever did,” Pfiefer said. “You can’t eat a whole jar at once, so you see the label for longer.”
He also began to offer a combo pack with Italian beef and sausage. Last year, he launched That’s Pat’s corned beef.
“It went gangbusters,” he said. “People love it for St. Patrick’s Day.”
“Everybody in this industry fights for scraps in Chicago,” he said. “I feel like the king of Wisconsin.”
Like Shields, Pfiefer also spent time developing his product and his business plan before launch.
“You have to know what you’re doing,” he said. “In the beginning, you have to work nights. You have to head straight on and, just in case, know what’s your plan B.”
Pfiefer also hopes to offer online ordering in the future, and he continues to work on expanding his product’s presence.
“It’s not always easy,” he said. “But my name and face is on the box. I have to live up to that.”