Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week, time for CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law*. This week’s Meet a Mom feature is the lovely Lake Forest mama of 13-year-old twins, and owner of Taste Buds Kitchen in Bannockburn, Amanda Marijanovic. Amanda chats about the impetus that led her to follow her heart’s passion project to this experiential business, whilst still producing large-scale corporate events for Fortune 100 clients – woah! In this exclusive interview, Amanda describes about the most difficult days at the beginning of the pandemic, how they persevered and what’s next for Taste Buds Kitchen.
Taste Buds Kitchen in Bannockburn has been a culinary staple on the North Shore since 2017. From kids classes and themed workshops, to birthday parties and special events, to adult’s only weekend night workshops there’s something very special for everyone here.
p.s. Save the date post-Thanksgiving for those amazing weekend Gingerbread House Workshops not to miss! Spots will fill fast!
Hi Amanda! Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I’m Amanda Marijanovic. 😀 My husband and I live in Lake Forest with our twin 13-year-old boys. I’m the owner of Taste Buds Kitchen here in Bannockburn. We opened in May of 2017.
What was the impetus behind your decision to open Taste Buds Kitchen?
For over 20 years, I built a career around storytelling and creating impactful experiences as a journalist, public relations specialist, and event producer. Opening a neighborhood cooking studio in our area was a “passion project” for me. The idea sparked shortly after my boys were born. As a talented home chef, when the boys were ready for solid foods, I decided to forgo the jars and make my own. I believe that exposing them to a wide range of new flavors at a very young age and encouraging them to get messy in the kitchen turned them into the great eaters they are now. Cooking with your kids really impacts the diversity of their palette and desire to try new things. But finding the time – and patience – to do that in your own kitchen in our busy world isn’t always realistic for many families.
And as an experienced producer by trade, I had an entrepreneurial intuition that a kitchen space designed to bring kids, families and adults together to create good food and lasting memories would be a big success in our community. It’s truly transformative the way collaborative cooking brings people together. I felt our area was missing this type of experience-based business where budding chefs, young and old, could come together to learn and experiment in the culinary playground of the kitchen.
What has been the biggest stumbling block to date?
Navigating a temporary business closure due to COVID-19, then re-opening and working to rebuild during a global pandemic.
We were a few months away from celebrating our 3rd anniversary when the pandemic hit. We were experiencing steady growth as a small business, had ramped up with an incredibly talented team to meet the demand and were just “cooking along,” operationally, like a well-oiled machine. And then the world just stopped. In addition to feeling all of the uncertainty as every human in those early days, my experience as a business owner with added responsibility for the health and safety of my staff and our guests led to the most amount of sleepless nights and stress I can ever recall.
We worked so hard to stay nimble and relevant to meet our guests where they were – at home! – during those first months and since reopening, continue to evolve our offerings and operations to ensure a comfort level that addresses everyone’s needs. It certainly hasn’t been easy and we’re still striving to get back to pre-pandemic sales and staffing levels but we are so incredibly blessed to still be here. We’ve all learned to be more flexible, more nimble and so very grateful.
What is most rewarding about this cooking-based experiential career?
Nurturing and developing our culinary crew.
While I knew I had the business acumen, marketing and sales know-how to drive this business forward, in a “big” concept like this, there are so many other factors necessary for success. If there’s one thing I underestimated most when I set out on this journey, it’s the daily attention HR requires and how difficult it can be to acquire great part-time talent in this job market. I assumed our Event Assistant position would be a dream job for local high school and college students and it would be easy to find instructors as passionate about food and teaching as we are. I think people assume a culinary degree is required to be part of our team. In reality, the ideal candidate is someone with experience entertaining people young and old while having a solid foundation of cooking and baking skills. Like a good soup, our team members are a perfect blend of talents – from dietetics and teaching, to theater, and, of course, the culinary arts.
And so, as any good cook would do, I’ve learned to keep stirring the pot so I’m always on top of our staffing needs, recruiting, training and developing our amazing team.
Have you always had a passion for cooking? How and when did it start?
Yes! I’ve always been a foodie. I love to cook, eat and entertain.
Growing up, I would watch Julia Child and Jacques Pépin on Channel 11 on the weekends and emulate their recipes with little cut up pieces of paper! I started hosting dinner parties as soon as I had my first apartment as a sophomore in college.
Spending time in the kitchen just nurtures my soul and I feel most fulfilled when I’m busy making a multi-course meal for friends or family while chatting away about what’s new in their lives and sipping a tasty glass of wine. The saying “the kitchen is the heart of the home” couldn’t be truer to me.
What is your proudest moment as a business owner?
Being part of someone’s special celebration.
We have a sign that hangs in one of our back-of-house areas that reads: “Today is someone’s first time here. Let’s welcome and wow them.” In the day-to-day operations of making culinary magic, we never want our team to forget what a privilege it is to host a child’s birthday, for instance, which is the MOST important event of the year for that child. Or a corporate event that brings a group of colleagues from around the country together to connect as a larger team. These are experiences that create memories that can last a lifetime and we’re simply honored and humbled to be a small part of that.
What’s coming up on the calendar for Taste Buds Kitchen?
We’re about to enter the most magical time of the year in our kitchen!
Just after Thanksgiving – as I’m a firm believer that it’s imperative to enjoy your turkey and sides before you can start to celebrate the holidays – we transform our kitchen studio into a winter wonderland with festively décor and specialty seasonal events.
Our weekends are filled with gingerbread house decorating workshops where guests sip hot cocoa and listen to holiday tunes while enjoying endless decorating options with limitless candy! It’s become a “must do” family tradition here on the North Shore – perfect for families with kiddos of all ages from 2 to teen!
And while we host private events like birthday parties, field trips, private classes, corporate team-building, couples night out and more all year round – our winter wonderland kitchen makes December the perfect time to bring friends or families together for an extra special celebration. Psst…and you don’t need to wash dishes or clean up afterwards! 😉
Please save the date post-Thanksgiving for those amazing weekend Gingerbread House Workshops not to miss! Spots will fill fast!
About CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor:
A very heartfelt thank you to CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor, Lake Forest mom of three and owner of Gifford Law, a solo Estate Planning Firm. Mary, we appreciate your support of local moms in our North Shore communities! Learn more about Mary by visiting her Meet a Mom spotlight here!