Owning a local business: Mundelein business owners reflect


photo courtesy of MacKenzie Stewart

The inside of Fresh Cafe, owned by Kelly Paulson, features quaint tables, a “fresh” atmosphere full of color and carpentry created by her husband. The cafe offers couches and tables for any person, alone or with a group, to enjoy what Fresh Cafe has to offer.

MacKenzie Stewart, News & Opinion & Online Editor













Many would say Mundelein has a vibrant downtown atmosphere with its Mundelein Days and the Farmers’ Market– events meant to contribute to a sense of community. They also might say Mundelein would be incomplete without the hundreds of local businesses that contribute to the village’s economy and its downtown environment.

According to the Village of Mundelein website, there are more than 100 businesses in the downtown area with more than 700 businesses in the whole of Mundelein. There are many larger businesses and industries that make up this economic sector, but so do the small, local businesses.

One local business owner, Frank Mahar, the owner of Area General Store, which is located on Lake Street near Tina G’s, weighed in on his business experiences and what he hopes to achieve through his company.

“The whole heart of it was really just that we want to love and encourage people; you don’t get into this to retire, but it’s this: it’s being able to hire young adults, young kids and hopefully encourage them, [and it’s] just having an atmosphere where people feel safe,” Mahar said.

The Area General Store provides a variety of coffee and other hot and cold drinks in an atmosphere meant to encourage people of all ages to come in for a coffee, to work or to gather together with friends (even over a game).

Mahar also discussed the large sense of community he feels in Mundelein and how that contributed to his choice to buy the Area General Store in 2019, which was founded in 2015.

“I love the people…the people we get to see…just being in this community, it’s got to be the best community that I can tell you that I know of, and I’ve seen many,” said Mahar, who has lived in Mundelein for about 30 years, is involved with baseball, attends the Chapel and sent his kids through MHS. “We’ve seen a lot of change, but our heart is that hopefully [our business] is just a little bit of a bright spotlight.”

The owner of Fresh Cafe, Kelly Paulson shared the same sentiment of a love for the people who come into her store, whether they are vegans from Milwaukee or Chicago or people from Mundelein stopping in to try new, healthy foods that are soy-free, vegan, gluten-free and almost all organic.

“We really just love the community and the way we’ve been received, and our customers, we hold them in our heart. They’re almost like our friends now, and we get all kinds of new people that come,” said Paulson, who created this business based off of her previous career as a chiropractor and how she was exposed to a business like hers but decided to expand upon this idea by providing a wide-range of drinks and food. Her daughter was also vegan, and this pushed her to make good vegan food.

While the customers are what small business owners love about their experience, there are negatives to owning one’s own business.

In Mahar’s view, nothing is able to surpass his love for community involvement, but he said the only negatives to owning a local business was he has to take care of the paperwork and inventory, which can keep him from interacting with the customers as much as he would like.

Another hardship for local businesses can be staffing issues.

“The hardest part is staffing,” Paulson said.  “It’s hard to find the right employees, and keeping them, it’s just the turnover sometimes is heartbreaking, especially if they’re young. They’re like my babies.”

Nell Rice, the owner of Debbie’s Floral Shoppe, has a more unique situation surrounding her business because flowers can be more of a seasonal industry.

“The hardest part is probably because it’s a seasonal business, ensuring that we still get support during the seasons that [are] not as high volume…but to have the community realize that we are here year-round and continuing to have their support for small businesses [is important],” Rice said.

For young student entrepreneurs looking to start their own small business, these business owners also offered advice based off of their experiences.

“A lot of people say find something that you enjoy; I would say find something that you’re gifting can be applied to because we’re all gifted in certain areas,” Mahar said.

Paulson also added that it is important to enter an industry that you truly love while also making sure that you have researched the market first.

“Do your research; make sure you understand the industry really well that you’re going into, and talk to other people about the industry so that you don’t have unrealistic expectations and have a passion for it,” Paulson said.

Rice echoed a similar need to know about the industry as she was able to follow her passion after leaving corporate America.

“I would say follow your dream; go for it, and do your research. Work with reliable resources if you don’t have your own to do a business plan and just do your homework prior to opening,” Rice said.

The local business owners’ passion for their work and their love for their customers and the community are what contribute to Mundelein’s diverse offerings when it comes to such goods as food, beverages and gifts.

“Bloom where you’re planted. This part of town, there’s a big initiative going to create an ‘up-town’,” Paulson said. “Mundelein is really trying to grow, and to be part of that growth, that’s the rewarding part.”