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Small Business

Fresh Entrepreneurs in Chicago


Old camp buddies mingle online, upscale meals on the go, and a limited-supply shoe boutique: Profiles of three companies worth watching

Pitching Their Tent on the Web

In Seinfeld parlance, T.J. Shanoff and Brad Spirrison were winter friends. While attending Chicago's Latin School, the two hung out together. But every summer they split up to go to separate camps in Wisconsin to be with their summer friends. Now they've teamed up to create a Web site, MyCampFriends.com, where everyone can be year-round friends. Since its start last September, 2,500 camp alums have registered, most to find old pals, though some have used it to organize reunions. Shanoff, 34, a music director at Second City, and Spirrison, 33, president of Midwest Business, a Chicago Internet service, expect ad revenues to hit $250,000 in 2009. They spent $35,000 to get the venture started. Are the entrepreneurs happy campers? "We're ecstatic campers," says Shanoff. —Howard Wolinsky

Meals on the Go for the Upscale Set

Forget Boston Market or the prepared-foods section of Jewel or Whole Foods (WFMI). In Oak Park, there's Perfect Dinner, a kitchen that prepares "home-style" take-out and delivered meals. The startup is aimed mostly at "El" riders, who can go online to scope out the shop's menu of 8 to 10 daily entrées and order ahead before exiting Oak Station on the Green Line.

The business was founded by Karen Gruber, 48, who formerly handled the Kraft cheese account at ad agency J. Walter Thompson, and Jill Haas, 47, a onetime food scientist at Kraft Foods. Perfect Dinner broke even with $500,000 in revenue last year—the average check is $41—and is looking at 8%-to-10% growth this year, Gruber says. The pair, who started the venture with $250,000 from friends, family, and their own savings, is now trying to drum up $700,000 to open two more sites this fall. —Howard Wolinsky

Shoe Addicts, Beware

Ian Ginoza, 35, sells sneakers in Wicker Park, but there's no chance shoppers would mistake his boutique for a Foot Locker (FL). Sure, Ginoza's Saint Alfred carries Nike (NKE) and Reebok, among other brands. But the store orders shoes only every three months, in 12-pair batches, and when a style is sold out, that's it. Saint Alfred never restocks. Bewitched by the limited supply, fashionistas and collectors pay up to $400 for a pair of sneakers. Ginoza got into high-end sneaker retailing in 2001 when he opened Kicks/HI in Honolulu after working as an art director for IPath, a skateboard shoe and apparel company now owned by Timberland (TBL). Oddly, some of his best customers ordered from Chicago. So Ginoza flew here to size up the market. He and three partners then spent $150,000 to open Saint Alfred—the patron saint of footwear, they joke—in late 2005. The shop turned profitable within six months, Ginoza says. —Rachel Arndt


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