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Taking Care of Business, Part 1

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Across the city, Jewish entrepreneurs are succeeding in business
04/15/2008

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Kosher Ham party, Jeremy Bloom (center, front)

Going into business for yourself takes chutzpah. This week, in the first of a two-part series, meet two local Jews—Michael Farah and Jeremy Bloom—who found the inspiration, money and guts to take their big ideas and run with them.

Old-School FroYo? Hell No!

Michael Farah is starting a cultural revolution over on State and Erie—and the cultures are alive!

Popular on the coasts and overseas for years, chilled yogurt is tart, tangy and doesn’t resemble the stuff we all used to enjoy at TCBY. Berry Chill’s healthy, low calorie, low-fat, lactose-free treats contain live active cultures that some say boost metabolism and immune response.

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Michael Farah, yogurt king

Farah first discovered the joys of this healthy upscale treat on a spring break trip to Florence while he was studying in Israel. One of his challenges has been getting locals to embrace the unfamiliar flavor. “We’re working with the best yogurt scientists in the world; Berry Chill is healthier than most yogurt you can buy in the store, but we have to change everyone’s views,” he says. And to do this, Farah is focusing not only on offering the best product possible, but creating a brand and engaging customers.

When Farah left the world of commodities trading after seven years to focus on building his chilled empire, he dedicated himself to creating a unique approach and a business with an upscale feel. “I’m really trying to change the way that retail is done. We’re breaking all of the rules and most people’s first reaction is, 'wow.' We deliver, we have a mobile bar on wheels for events, we’re doing this differently,” he says. The space itself is hip and comfortable, there’s a Berry Chill blog, the store stays open until 4 a.m. on weekends and customers can personalize their experience by voting for the month’s flavors online.

Farah is also out to make people feel good about spending at Berry Chill. All of the bowls and spoons are totally recyclable and the re-loadable payment cards—popular at many restaurants and coffee shops—come with two perks at Berry Chill: a 10% bump to added funds and a 3% donation from every purchase to a charity such as Bright Pink or Gen Art. Customers register their cards online to select the charity.

That warm community feel extends all the way to the toppings. In addition to fruits and cereals, toppings include treats from area shops: granola from Milk & Honey in Wicker Park, pie crust from Pie and candies from Sarah’s Pastries, both in the Gold Coast and—those childhood favorites of Jews from the ‘burbs— smiley face cookies from Leonard’s in Northbrook.

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The cookies have eyes!

Despite living the hectic life of a business owner, 30-year-old Farah is having a great time with this new venture. “It’s fun because I am so passionate about the product,” he says. “I work 20 hours a day and it never ends but I love it. The best thing is that the yogurt and this place just make everyone so happy. We’ve only been open a month and we’ve created a really social atmosphere.”

If Berry Chill isn’t near your stomping grounds, it might be soon. Farah plans to open five more stores in the city this year. Watch for two loop locations to open soon.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Not everyone can—or wants to—quit his day job to start a new venture. Jeremy Bloom came up with his side project while engaging in an activity long-known for inspiring great ideas: drinking.

“It was St. Patrick's Day 2007 and I was eight hours into drinking Guinness pints and Jameson shots at Pint in Wicker Park. I’d made a shirt that said, ‘Irish Chicks Love My Kosher Corned Beef.’ Dozens of random people asked where I bought my shirt and if they could take pictures with me,” says Bloom. During that holiday binge, the phrase “kosher ham” popped into his head.

With the words still kicking around the next morning, Bloom saw an opportunity to use his background in advertising copywriting—and his longtime love of funny t-shirts—to do something creative. He trademarked Kosher Ham, found a designer and dove into the funny t-shirt business. “Wearing a t-shirt is a reflection of your identity and gives every individual the chance to be their own walking billboard… It’s an easy way to make an impact,” Bloom says.

A self-described “guy who does ad sales,” Bloom had been keeping money in his piggy bank to use when inspiration struck. “I knew I'd be hungry with an idea, and instead of convincing a bank or family and friends for the initial backing, I took it upon myself,” he says. Bloom developed the concept for the website, got pricing and opened up a business account with American Apparel. He comes up with ideas for the shirts, works with designers and gets the products printed—and he does it all after-hours.

“It’s pretty awesome starting my own business. On nights and weekends I fill orders, work on the website and work on Kosher Ham’s Facebook page. I have also been teaching myself about search engine optimization.”

So far, business is good. Kosher Ham Ventures LLC became official in May 2007, and today the site offers more than 20 shirts (the logo shirt is the most popular) and the Facebook page boasts almost 300 fans. There are a bunch of new designs in the works and Bloom is planning to start selling onesies, children’s clothing, and maybe even tops for dogs.

Next week, meet Danielle Schultz—and find out about her one-woman revolution to modernize modest clothing options for girls and women. And, have you ever been sitting in your cubicle and thought, hey, I could do this at home in my pajamas? Josh Eisenberg, freelance web designer and writers, shares the ups and downs of life without an office—or a boss.

Do you know Jews running local businesses? Leave a comment or drop us a note and let us know what you and your entrepreneurial pals are up to.

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