Erica Thewis grew up in Glenview, Illinois often helping her mother cook in the kitchen. Everything in her house was homemade. When time came for her to go to college, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She studied Art History and Italian, even studying abroad in Italy twice: a summer in Verona and a semester in Milan. Those experiences altered her life’s course.
While in Italy, she fell in love with the language, culture and food. Following graduation, she moved to France, where she was again enamored by the culture and food. After nine months, she moved back to the United States and decided to go to culinary school. She attended Kendall College in Chicago and earned a degree in Baking and Pastry. She spent some time working the culinary scene in Chicago and then made the move to Memphis.
She found that the culinary scene in Memphis was quite different than in Chicago. In a smaller metropolitan area, there were fewer bakeries and career options. She decided she would use this to her advantage and start making and selling niche pastries on her own. Her products, french macarons and ganache filled chocolates, were inspired by her time abroad.
Having her own pastry company was fun and challenging. Having minimal experience in business in the past, she surprisingly enjoyed learning all it took to successfully run a business. She loved the independence having her own business provided her. She was able to use the high-quality ingredients she wanted to and design her desserts in her own way. At the same time, it was easy to let the business take over her life. She often worked 15 hour days.
She would sell her products on Saturday mornings at the local farmers markets, at a small grocery store, from an Etsy online shop and to some caterers around town. Over time, people around town got to know her and appreciate her desserts. They would try a macaron, become hooked and tell their friends. She was even featured in the local paper a few times. It was fun being a small-town celebrity!
After four years in Memphis, however, she decided to come back to Chicago. The business had a great run but it became time for Erica to think about the long-term. She didn’t want to stay in Memphis forever and the long hours put into the business was exhausting. Moving back to Chicago made the most sense.
She considered starting the macaron business in Chicago but the competition would be tough. She did spend some time baking at various bakeries but ultimately decided it was time to move onto the next venture. She spent some time self-reflecting and realized that what she loved about running the business was the people, connections and relationships she formed with her customers. She learned about the field of Human Resources and thought it could be a good fit for her. She earned her Masters degree in Human Resources Management from DePaul University in August 2019. She then joined Saggezza in November as an HR Generalist.
Erica is grateful Saggezza took the chance on a Liberal Arts major and appreciates the embrace of someone with a different background. She believes more companies should be open to hiring those who may not perfectly fit the mold of the job. The skills she garnered with that background are applicable to what she is doing today and can bring new ideas to the table. She looks forward to her time ahead at Saggezza.
Erica’s advice to young people looking to start a business would be: have someone who you trust for business advice, have a specialist in the field of business you’re in for help, and do not be afraid to ask for help. Knowing when you need help and feeling comfortable asking for it are important in running your own business. Additionally, take risks because that’s the only way you’ll grow. Finally, remember the importance of having a proper work-life balance.
Overall, starting her own business at 26 years old was a very positive learning experience in her life. She doesn’t know where she would be now if she didn’t do it. The lessons learned are applicable to her career and life still today. Though it was a scary risk it all worked out in the end.
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