It was while folding tamales at a cooking class in 2007 that Jill Foucré figured out exactly how to spice up her work life.
Then regional vice president of UnitedHealth Networks, the Glen Ellyn, Ill., resident just loved the atmosphere of the combined retail store and cooking school in nearby Forest Park where she was taking the course.
"I kept thinking about what a happy place it was and how I could have a place like it," Foucré recalls.
Still, she might never have acted on the fantasy had it not been for a corporate reorganization that swallowed her job in 2010. Foucré turned down the new position she was offered, pocketing severance amounting to her salary of $260,000 plus a 30% bonus.
"That gave me the chance to try my own business," she says. Exiting in June, Foucré promised her husband, Bob, that she'd have a viable business plan by December.
A weekend chef who's made everything from sushi to pheasant, Foucré was determined "not to continue treating cooking as if it were a hobby, but to have a plan for making money at it."
So she applied lessons learned in the corporate world to her plan. And for advice on running a food company, she interviewed a former caterer and cooking teacher (both of whom she later hired).
Satisfied she had a recipe for success, Foucré opened Marcel's Culinary Experience -- named after her grandfather, a French chef -- in September 2011.
The 3,400-square-foot space holds a retail store and a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. Marketing via a website, social media, and community involvement, Marcel's did $1.1 million in sales last year.
Because she had considerable overhead, Jill only managed to take home $30,000. But what she's gained can't be valued, she says: "The day Marcel's opened, I felt more professional satisfaction than ever before."
HOW SHE DID IT
Amount Foucré has invested in Marcel's: $750,000
The money -- for a building, construction, and inventory -- came largely from her severance and exercised stock options. She and Bob still have ample retirement funds, "and that's money we won't touch," she vows.
When they plan to stop tapping savings: 2014
Jill and Bob collect $2,000 a month from rental units above the store. Even so, with living expenses of $100,000, they will need to earn $70,000 next year. (Bob, who owned a body shop, helps out at Marcel's.)
Expected annual sales growth for the next five years: 15%
To reach that goal -- which includes a salary of $100,000 in 2018 -- Foucré is exploring online sales. She's also marketing the store as a space for private affairs, like cocktail parties with demonstration stations. "We've got a beautiful, happy place to share," says Foucré.