One of the things that I love about working with small businesses is all the heart and soul that exists at this level of commerce. So on occasion, we like to feature the best, brightest, and badass small businesses around (which probably won’t be small for too much longer).
First up is Warm Belly Bakery, which just opened in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. And, let me tell you, Warm Belly’s road to reality is one that dreams are made of, including a stint on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and a chance encounter with an angel investor.
Admittedly, the owner, Joe Dela Pena, is my cousin-in-law, but when Chicago Magazine says that Warm Belly is “signaling a shift from the doughnut fad to a cookie trend,” it’s time to listen.
Did you hear that Chicago? Donuts are out. Cookies are in. And, it all started with Warm Belly.
I mean seriously, how good do these cookies look?
Meet Joe, founder and chief cookie maker at Warm Belly Bakery.
So, Joe, you could have opened up any type of food establishment. Why cookies?
Every self-respecting fat guy should be able to make a good cookie!
Describe your business in 3 words.
Whimsical. Inventive. Comfort.
With 30 types of cookies that you bake, which would you say is your favorite?
It changes a lot. I get bored relatively easy, so the newest is usually my favorite.
What was the most surprising thing about starting your own business?
There’s an amazing array of things that can delay an opening. Understanding the requirements and getting the necessary approvals to open a brick-and-mortar store, especially a food establishment, was really eye-opening. The big lesson learned was to definitely build in time for any “surprises” that might pop up.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I let the public know the date of our "expected" opening. It turned out to be about 9 months later, which meant 9 months of explaining why we weren't open yet. Our next location will simply say "coming soon."
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Find mentors and network, network, network! People, at least in my experience, have been so quick to help and pay it forward. I was lucky to get a great deal of advice from some seasoned entrepreneurs, but what really kept me going was the constant support from my friends and family. It was hard to tell people that I am planning my future with cookies and there’s so much doubt and uncertainty in doing something new. Their words of encouragement and support went a long way. Honestly, it has been such a refreshing and positive experience.
Complete this sentence. In five years, I'll be -----.
Covered in flour, creating even more exciting cookies. It's what I love.
You’ve somehow managed to generate more than 600 followers on Instagram and more than 1,000 likes on Facebook. That’s not bad for a business that just opened last week. How did that happen and what’s your advice to others?
We did everything organically- very grassroots. We're trying to become an integral part of our neighborhood. I think people see that we're genuine and they respond to that. Connecting with the right people on social media and in real life has been super beneficial.
Here's why Joe's social media strategy works:
From the beginning, Joe brought his fans and followers along on his journey, his posts are relevant and timely, and his larger-than-life personality and quick wit translates perfectly to social media and to his business.
Joe’s social media strategy is to involve his customers in the process by asking for feedback and running ideas past his tribe. He’s not afraid to show his personality and have a little bit of fun with social media (and neither should you).
Even before Warm Belly Bakery launched, Joe was using his own Facebook account to gather feedback from his network. Here are a few of my favorite posts that demonstrate how he interacted and engaged with his audience:
What else do you want people to know about you or your business?
We have a mascot suit... Sometimes it's actually me in there, so come say hi!
Run, don't walk, to Warm Belly Bakery.
Warm Belly Bakery is located at 1148 W. Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60607.
Keyword Marketing inspires creators, builders, and self-starters to bring their company to life. We help businesses develop their identity, share their personality with the world, and connect with their customers through education, coaching and workshops, and personalized consulting.
Thanks to Warm Belly Bakery for the interview and delicious photos!