Elgin family business wants to build on dreams
Kevin Echevarria believes there are many people who have the dream and the drive to create a new business for themselves.
What they might need “is the partner to take the concept or the idea to the next level,” said the 27-year-old Elgin entrepreneur
Echevarria knows about having a dream. Right now, his dream is to take the family business he founded with his father, PKE Enterprises Inc., public some day. He might have the right plan to make that happen, too.
In 2012, he and his father, Pedro Echevarria, sold off their managing interest in Delicia Tropical Cafe — a Puerto Rican restaurant they opened in 2006 when he was just out of high school.
Instead, they decided to get into the business of making empanadas — pastries filled with savory meats or sweet fillings.
While searching for a small food manufacturing facility, they came upon Shared Dream Kitchen. Opened by Marcia and Tim Kellenberger in 2011, Shared Dream Kitchen at 1544 Fleetwood Drive, Elgin, allows those with a home-based catering or other food-based business to rent space in a fully-outfitted commercial kitchen, making it legal to sell their wares to clients and the public.
Echevarria, as RRia Foods, began making empanadas in an expanded Shared Dream Kitchen and selling them to food service providers in the region.
Then, last year, the Echevarrias purchased Shared Dream Kitchen from the Kellenbergers.
Now, Echevarria plans to take the Dream Kitchen concept further — not only helping small food-based businesses like caterers and bakers have a cooking location, but also helping them to build their small businesses.
He calls the new enterprise Dream Business Inc.
“When we bought Dream Kitchen, we knew that for this to be successful, we needed not just to have space but other services. Dream Business services is the back office for entrepreneurs,” he said.
He plans to offer those start-ups, at reasonable fees, graphic design, printing services, website design and “a whole slew of back-end office services that we are compiling so they can professionally expand and grow without having to worry about the costs of starting up a business,” Echevarria said.
He is working with professionals in the catering business like Jody Birnbaum of Buffalo Grove-based Caterconsult, Inc. A former caterer herself, she now is a business management consultant to the food services industry.
“Kevin has created such a great opportunity for these entrepreneurs to have space to produce their food and grow their businesses, but with the objective of offering more incubator services …like boot camp workshops, mentoring and coaching,” Birnbaum said.
“Kevin’s idea is offering these additional services to the community that uses his kitchen and outside of the kitchen, too, in food service … to help those in the industry, start up or grow their companies,” she said.
By helping out small businesses at the front end, he can help those businesses avoid some of the pitfalls he and his father faced when they opened Delicia Tropical Cafe, Echevarria said.
Neither had ran a restaurant before. Kevin Echevarria graduated from Elgin High School in 2005 and was running a small soda vending business. Pedro Echevarria, an associate pastor at Charismatic Church of Zion in downtown Elgin, owned property as a landlord and had worked at restaurant in Chicago after he came to Illinois from Puerto Rico.
“A restaurant on Villa was up for a lease and we lived up the street from it. Dad said ‘Lets open up a restaurant.’ We were two guys who knew nothing about the restaurant industry. I was 18,” Echevarria said.
The first few years were rough and they learned a lot, he said. When they sold the restaurant to an employee in 2012, however, they had already outlasted several Puerto Rican restaurants that had tried and failed in suburban Chicago, Echevarria said.
Some of the lessons they learned in those early years is what they hope to help other small start-ups avoid, he said.
“We learned early on in the restaurant that a lot of vendors were out for cash when we were just trying to grow,” he said.
When just getting started, spending $4,000 or $5,000 to get a website up and running wasn’t feasible. “When you are starting, that is not realistic when you are trying to get your foot off of the ground,” he said.
Others offered to create websites for $600 but it might not be as usable as the more expensive one either, he said.
At the same time the Echevarrias have been building the Dream Kitchen and the idea of Dream Business Services, they have also been building the empanada business, too. Recently, they began partnering with a similar service out of Oak Brook and the two have combined forces, making and selling the pastries for both businesses from the Fleetwood Drive location. Right now, they are making 4,000 empanadas a hour, with the ability to produce on two machines 10,000 an hour.
There are 13 different varieties available, with beef, spinach and mushroom empanadas the best sellers. The pastries are made from scratch in Elgin and boxed, frozen and shipped to food supply warehouses.
So far, PKE Enterprises is a family business with Kevin and Pedro doing most of the day-to-day operations. His brother, Eric Echevarria, an Elgin Police Officer, and sister Madelyn Rodrieguez, an accountant, have also become part of the business along with his mother, Emma, and wife, Yesenia Echevarria.
Kevin Echevarria says he has been approached by other suburban cities, curious about incubator kitchens like Dream Kitchen and how that model can be used to help small businesses get started in their communities, too.
He would also like to see the Dream Business model help start-up manufacturing and technology companies in the future, Echevarria said.
If there is one thing that he does regret is that he didn’t take his schooling very seriously until he was a senior in high school, and only attended one semester at Elgin Community College.
“If I had the opportunity to go back and do it again, I would have gone to school,” Echevarria said.
He hears from small business owners who have worked 14 hour shifts their entire lives and don’t see how they could have made it easier on themselves had they had more education about running a business first. “They don’t feel the need for self improvement for themselves and their businesses. I have seen .. people who are not successful, sometimes, because of the lack of information and the lack of knowledge about resources. I am fortunate enough to know I want to learn from mistakes. That is the key to success.”
Janelle Walker is a freelance reporter