meet nicole: chicago restaurateur and catering expert

Nicole at Lacuna, LM Restaurant Group, peoplewithpanache.com

“My husband was educated in England, but he’s actually from France and has also traveled with hotel companies,” Nicole says. “We have a little bit of the same type of background. His family had restaurants as well when he grew up. As much as I think that should help a lot, sometimes we still have complete different opinions on things. It also brings spice to the company and its operations.”

This weekend is 2016 Wedding No. 10—my cousin Josh and his lovely fiancé Katherine. Their reception will be held in the Drake Hotel—very fancy and very classic “Chicago.” I am sure the food will be decadent, but truthfully I’m most excited to see the inside of the Drake. I’ve been living downtown for going on 5 years and I’ve never set foot inside the iconic hotel—though I’ve often gazed at it nestled between the other skyscrapers while lying in the sand on Oak Street beach. I’ve always loved it because it reminds me simultaneously of my hometown, Chicago, and my alma mater, Drake University, although the two share nothing but the name.

Alysse and I have also been talking a ton about her wedding plans for next year. *Happy dance!* For her venue, she has decided on a gorgeous outdoor affair under a big tent on rolling hills in Milwaukee’s Grant Park, made even more deliciously fun with her favorite foods grown by some of her favorite people, plus flower crowns and vegetable bouquets. The vision in my head in picturesquely Alysse. And I can’t wait.

Naturally, all of this wedding attending and planning has me thinking about the possibilities for my own someday, so what better person to interview during my “year of weddings” than Nicole Outrequin Quaisser—co-owner of LM Restaurant Group. Besides owning restaurants such as Troquet and Brasserie by LM with her husband, Nicole also runs a catering business and manages event spaces such as Lacuna Lofts, a trendy venue in Pilsen that is a wedding favorite—and I can see why! Everywhere you look, there is a unique piece of art or perfectly placed detail to appreciate. No surface is off limits—even some of the doors are adorned with works of art.

The icing on the wedding cake: Nicole is from Germany but launched her catering career here in Chicago—at none other than the Drake Hotel.

People with Panache: How did you get into the restaurant and catering business?

Nicole Outrequin Quaisser: I was 4 years old when my dad opened his first restaurant. I was born and raised in Germany, and I grew into the business pretty early. At 8, I was helping to bartend for major events—obviously the law was different then—and as a teenager, I hated it. Basically I said, I will never go into this industry.

My dad said, “Do me one favor before you make your final decision: Do an internship in one of the greatest hotels in the city.” I said I would, and I was hooked after three weeks. I did an official apprenticeship for 3 years and finished with a hotel management degree. I worked there a couple of years, and I left Germany when I was 21 years old.

Nicole O Q, LM Restaurant, People with Panache

On apprenticeships: “It’s a different approach in Germany. You work for 3 months and you go to school for 3 months. You actually get to work every single department at the hotel and get to know everything from the ground up. You learn everything else at school, but when you’re done, you’ve actually done it already, you haven’t just learned it in theory.”

PWP: Where did you go?

NOQ: I had figured out my English wasn’t good enough for the industry, so I went to England. I worked for Hilton International there for 18 months—and I had told my mom I would be back in three.

Then I got transferred to New York City. I was there for the first bombing of the World Trade Center. The Vista Hotel, where I worked, was right between the Twin Towers and was actually where the truck parked with the bomb in it the first time around. It blew through our ballrooms and locker rooms. We had one casualty. The hotel was so badly damaged, I couldn’t continue working there, so they shipped me out to Guam in the South Pacific. I worked there for a while, but then there was a huge earthquake, 8.2, in the same year. It badly structurally damaged the hotel, so it closed, and Hilton sent me to the Drake Hotel here in Chicago in 1993. I loved it right away, and my catering career pretty much started from there.

PWP: Wow—what a run. What did you do at the Drake?

NOQ: I ended up being the director of catering convention services and took care of all of the large events for almost 10 years. That’s where my passion for catering came into play.

PWP: What do you love the most about it?

NOQ: I really enjoyed learning about all of the events, weddings and the sales process—that’s always been more of my passion than the actual execution. I really like initially making people excited about the venue and the actual day and seeing in their eyes: “Wow, this is the place! This is where I want to get married.”

Lacuna Lofts, People with Panache

Lacuna Lofts event space. The roof has a breathtaking view! Nicole on her favorite pastime: “Horseback riding is my biggest passion besides my work and my family. And it’s a confidence builder for people. Horses can be intimidating, but if you can overcome that and work with the horse—it’s a big commitment. It’s a sport that needs a lot of yourself to be one with the horse, to overcome the fear, know this animal could literally crush you. Business is a little bit the same thing. The business could crush you at any time, so how do you make yourself one with the business?”

I don’t have many degrees to show off, but I truly enjoy what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter what kind of business is coming in, I treat them like they’re the only ones. It’s a personal approach to everything. It’s all about if you’re passionate about what you do.

PWP: Then when did you open LM Restaurant Group?

NOQ: After 9 years at the Drake and revamping the Mid-America Club’s catering business in between, I started a position managing a very high-end retirement community. October 15 was my first day there and the same day my husband and I opened our first restaurant—LM Restaurant in Chicago’s Lincoln Square.

PWP: Wait—why did you have a full-time job if you were opening a restaurant?

NOQ: Opening your own business in the hospitality industry can go either way—we were obviously pretty sure we had the right concept, but you never know how your audience will take it. We have two kids, and we wanted to make sure our household income was secure, so my husband focused on opening LM with our executive chef at the time, and I helped with private dining and some catering while working at the retirement community.

Three years in, we started growing and opened three more restaurants. That’s when I joined the company full time. My husband is more of the culinary, accounting, operations side, and I’m more of the sales and relationship-building person.

PWP: You two make such a great team! What’s next for LM?

NOQ: We believe we want our own venues—we specialize in that because we took our own experiences out of the hotel business into the off-premise catering market. With our own home, we can create the same experience, with very detailed service aspects. It’s a more full-service approach to off-premise catering—without being stuffy about it.

PWP: What’s the inspiration behind your restaurants?

Nicole at Lacuna, LM, People with Panache

LM stands for Luc and Mary, Nicole and Stephan’s two kids.

NOQ: In the beginning, all of our restaurants were a modern take on French—not stuffy, white tablecloths, but modern, lighter, cleaner food. We had this big problem: People consider French food to be expensive and only for special occasions. We wanted to prove that even French people don’t only go to fine dining restaurants—French people eat their own food on a daily basis. That’s how we did Brasserie by LM and Troquet—approachable and affordable French food.

PWP: How have your European backgrounds influenced your work today?

NOQ: People always say about Germans that we’re really by the book and detailed on things. I think that carries through now to how we do our processes. I’m really big on making sure everybody has the right tools to do things. In the long term, it makes everybody’s life so much easier.

PWP: If you had to share a piece of wisdom or insight about how you got this far, what would you say?

NOQ: I’m a very driven person. Not trying to do my best is not necessarily an option for me. I always feel like I need to hire people who could eventually take my job and do what I do, with this passion. In the end, that’s the only way I can ensure everybody operates more or less with the inspiration that I have for my company. I’m really proud of the team we put together.

We can’t wait to dine with Nicole at one of LM’s lovely locations. Make a reservation here!

[Photos by Kate.]

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meet erin: healing community through yoga in detroit

One Sweet Erin

I love this picture of Erin at Iyengar Yoga Detroit. “My goal is to live in intentional community settings,” Erin says. Since she left college, she has lived in intentional community settings, focusing on connection and creating family space with non-blood family. It’s like her yoga practice brought out in how she wants to live. “My home community is a microcosm of how I want to live in greater community, with conflict resolution, vulnerability, and more.”

“Aren’t I radiant?” my grandma asked me last night.

She just had her final radiation treatment last week in a grueling series of surgeries and therapies over the last year and a half. Hallelujah—she is completely back to the spitfire of a woman that I know and love very, very much. Her puns prove it.

My grandma is a beautiful example of healing and resilience—of knowing who you are and not letting anything stop you from being you. Ever her teacher self, she brought apples to the hospital staff on her last day of treatment. Continue reading

meet nicole: leading ms. tech to support women startups

Nicole Yeary, Ms. Tech, People with Panache

“But I think there’s a real critical piece to all of this,” Nicole says. “It’s not just me—there’s a team of people who help to make all this happen. That’s why I think Chicago has the largest number of female founders—because we’re so willing to help each other.”

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be; I always knew the woman I wanted to become.”

Diane Von Furstenberg’s words perfectly illustrate Nicole Yeary’s career path—and this quote happens to be one of her favorites.

Nicole, founder of Ms. Tech, lives by the philosophy: ‘Do today with what you have.’ I so appreciate Nicole challenging us to remember to use the resources we have access to right now and do the best we can do. One day at a time, it adds up.

Ms. Tech ties together women, business and technology from within 1871 in Chicago, the largest tech innovation hub in the country. Chicago is the world’s capital of female founders—30 percent of Chicago’s startups are founded by women, compared to the 18 percent national average—and Nicole has now entered those ranks. Continue reading

meet melissa: milwaukee compost entrepreneur

Melissa Tashjian - Compost Crusader

One of Melissa’s proudest moments was taking the kids from McKinley Elementary School on a field trip to Blue Ribbon Organics, where her food scraps and compostable materials turn into rich compost. The kids saw the mountains of compost in various stages, felt its warmth, got to touch it and play. ”They were so into it!” Melissa says.

“I’m not here to point the finger and tell people they have to change,” says Melissa Tashjian. “It has to be something they really desire.”

I appreciate Melissa’s perspective, as she scales up Milwaukee’s composting capabilities. Certainly I’d be fast to admit I wish there was a way to more quickly help people care. Composting, growing food, remaining on the cutting edge of true sustainability—and regenerativity—of our food system are several of the big things that drive my life and career, so I am especially grateful to get to share this week’s wisdom, Melissa Tashjian style.

Melissa, 35, launched Compost Crusader in April 2014 to give food waste and other residuals a higher purpose: creating compost that helps grow more food. She’s trying to close the loop!

Starting with five customers, Compost Crusader had 15 by end of its first year and 40 by the end of 2015. Now, Melissa helps more than 60 current customers—from local restaurants to national corporations including Harley Davidson, Kohl’s and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin—turn “trash” into earthly treasure, keeping it out of our increasingly overstuffed landfills. Continue reading

lean in milwaukee: sharing stories and support

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The Empowerment Project asked us in their documentary, Sheryl Sandberg asked us in Lean In, and now we’re asking you.

Lean In Milwaukee

Kate R., on the left, started Milwaukee’s Lean In Chapter after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book. Way to Lean In, Kate! In this picture, I am holding the group’s namesake book, and everyone else has a “You Inspire Me” PWP postcard.

But first let’s rewind a little to 3 years, 6 months, and six days ago: January 20, 2013, the day before Kate and I launched our favorite little corner of the Internet—People with Panache!

Back then, Kate and I found reasons and ways to see each other in Milwaukee, Chicago, and the best rest stops in between just about every other week. In our professional lives, we were securely situated in jobs that fit well with our paths so far, but we weren’t quite satisfied. Sound familiar? Continue reading

meet marta: using art to save chicago’s strays

Marta Kenar, MCP Rescue and Outreach, People with Panache

Marta’s best advice: “Just keep going forward, and work hard for what you believe in. It seems so cliché, but I’ve been doing it, and it’s working, and it feels amazing.”

The summer before 6th grade, I got bit by a cocker spaniel. I saw him wandering around our cul de sac and thought he must be lost. I remembered that when you meet a dog for the first time, you’re supposed to build trust by letting it sniff your hand. At 11 years old, I was feeling brave and worried for the curly haired pup, so I knelt down and extended my right hand. It turns out that dog wasn’t interested in sniffing and took a big ol’ bite instead. I had to have surgery, wore a sling for the first few weeks of junior high, and still have a huge scar on my hand to this day.

My relationship to animals definitely changed after that. Instead of the curious innocence and blind infatuation of a child every time they see a cute, furry being, I became more cautious; I needed to trust the animal before I could fully love it.

It’s not that I stopped loving animals—there are some I love very much, including childhood pets—it’s just that now the danger of a strange beast that communicates purely in loud noise and quick movement is always in my subconscious. And the proof of the danger is permanently on my right hand.

On the other hand, I do believe that some people truly have a gift for understanding another species. Marta Kenar is one of those people. From my stepmom Karen who is obsessed with animals and has allowed every kind of pet you can imagine into our home (dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, turtle, snake, various rodents) to my best friend and PWP co-founder Alysse who truly cares about the wellbeing of every living thing on earth from butterflies to exotic wild animals to her very own new brood of chickens, you’d think I wouldn’t know anyone who could love animals more than them. But Marta may be the exception. As founder of MCP Rescue and Outreach, Marta hopes to instill compassion for animals, involve as many people as possible in rescuing dogs, and use art and music to bring youth into her mission. Continue reading

meet jamie: chicago entrepreneur taking the pet world online

Jamie Migdal, FetchFind, People with Panache

“I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur until FetchFind,” Jamie says. “I was a business owner, but I never had business plans, financial modeling or a marketing strategy. For me, I was like let’s just do this because it feels right—and it is right.” Now Jamie has more in place, but she’s still led by her love of people and animals.

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s house has been a revolving door of pets. My stepmom loves rescuing, and my brothers love encouraging her. Throughout my lifetime, we’ve had 4 dogs, 9 cats, 1 snake, 2 rabbits, 1 turtle and a bunch of fish in the backyard pond. The best one is obviously our orange tabby, Lucy, who I picked out when I was 14. And it’s well known to all of her furry (and scaly) companions that she’s the queen bee!

So when someone says they love animals, I know exactly what they mean. Jamie Migdal, lover of animals and founder of FetchFind, came up with a way to take working with animals to the digital space.

Instead of the typical route—vet or animal shelter—Jamie was looking for more connection between people and their pets. And boy did she create it. Continue reading

alysse is going to be a teacher!

“I don’t have a passion!” I remember whining to my mom from the kitchen table.

I was 17 years old, applying for colleges and attempting to pick a path for essentially the rest of my life. (LOL about the passion thing; I may have overcompensated since then.) Knowing how much I love people and enjoy writing, 17-year-old Alysse did a very nice service to 27-year-old Alysse and picked journalism. In journalism school, I met Kate, honed very handy researching and reporting skills, and gained experience with big assignments and tight deadlines—I really couldn’t ask for more. 

We both worked in magazines for several years during and after college, grew professionally, moved into our first adult apartments, and quickly wanted more from our jobs—in different directions. In the years I spent at Reader’s Digest, my first post-college gig, I found the time and freedom to figure out where all my passions—education, environment, social justice, people, animals, and more—intersected.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Lightbulb moment: The food system! Since that epiphany, I’ve hustled non-stop to help build a community-based, socially just, ecologically sustainable, nutritious food system for all—starting in my beloved Milwaukee, at Victory Garden Initiative.

But a simmering energy has been the undercurrent of nearly every job I’ve had, and over time it started to come to my attention with more and more clarity. I thought frequently of something I learned from Lisa at Sister Pie: Figure out the basic action that makes you happy, and build your career around that. All along, the thing I have been seeking is spending my days teaching kids. Challenging kids, sweet kids, struggling kids, goofy kids, all the kids. And what better way to influence the future than care for, educate and empower the pint-size people who are going to create it? There are nearly 80,000 children in Milwaukee Public Schools—80,000!!!—so why not pour as much positivity, resources and love as we can into a massive institution that will actually, literally, create our future?

I am extremely excited to share that I will be starting a certificate-to-Master’s teaching program at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee this August. I’ll be a teacher in a year in a half, then I can take a few final credits to earn my Master’s. From then on, you may call me Master Alysse. But just Alysse is okay right now. Continue reading

meet sarah: making milwaukee sweeter—and nuttier

Sarah’s favorite way to toast nuts: “I prefer the oven, but still watch it: They’re good, almost there, almost there—burned.”

Sarah’s favorite way to toast nuts: “I prefer the oven, but still watch it: They’re good, almost there, almost there—burned.”

My boyfriend gently suggested on Sunday that maybe—even just for a day—I take a Facebook break. (One more poorly fact-checked meme and I’m going over the edge, people!)

But for real. There is so much anger, divisiveness and aggressive misinformation batting back and forth across the intellectual wasteland that is Facebook—from all sides of any issue, mind you. If we’re playing pickle in the middle, I am feeling sort of like the pickle, and sort of overwhelmed, and more than sort of mad. I need a break.

So this week, can we all agree on something?

Gun laws? Women’s rights? Nah. We’re talking self care and treatin’ yo-self in the most deliciously scented way imaginable: SPICED NUTS.

Meet Sarah Marx Feldner of Treat Bake Shop, and then take a break from that smartphone bossing you around and visit her Milwaukee shop—or any of these (very astute) retailers across the country. Continue reading

meet anne: juicing for wellness in chicago

Anne Owen, Owen + Alchemy, People with Panache

“Being the person I want to be and being surrounded by people I find inspiring and creative fulfills me,” Anne says.

For the past three years, I’ve been on a health journey to try to figure out why the foods I love so much suddenly stopped loving me back. It’s like a classic text message break up: quick, painful, out of nowhere.

This March I finally did an elimination diet and discovered my biggest problem is gluten—luckily for me, it’s the trendiest of food intolerances. I also discovered I just don’t eat enough vegetables every day. I had no idea (a) how many veggies you’re supposed to eat, and (b) how few I was actually consuming. So my favorite way to get all those good for you greens became through homemade green smoothies. You can consume a couple servings of greens in one sitting, and with just a little apple or lemon, it tastes great, too. My latest favorite combo: spinach, kale, pineapple and cilantro.

I also discovered a new juice brand popping up around Chicago: Owen + Alchemy. Coincidentally, I learned that Owen is Anne Owen, a woman I quasi worked with at Modern Luxury media, my first job out of college. Naturally I had to track her down and find out how she went from being the publisher of Miami magazine to owner of a juice bar. Continue reading