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Women Who Defy Expectations: The Inspirational Stories of Successful Entrepreneurs in Spokane

The decision to defy expectations and leave my job as an attorney in September of 2015 is perhaps the most pivotal one I’ve made to date. It was the first time I did the unexpected and chose to forge my own path. Since then, I’ve been enthralled with and absolutely drawn to women who are audacious enough to flip the script in a similar way, so I couldn’t resist sitting down with three local women who have taken a chance on themselves and are building successful businesses here in Spokane.

I was honored to sit down with Lauren Blumenthal, Rachel French, and Jessica Yefremov to pick their brains, learn what drew them to the life of entrepreneurship, and share their wisdom with you all. I’ve described my time with each of these powerhouses below. They are listed alphabetically. 

Lauren Blumenthal, Owner, Sorella

I walked into Sorella on a sunny Thursday afternoon and was immediately hit with the divine smell of sauces being prepared for dinner service by Chef Justin Klauba. Once I recovered, I took in the swoon-worthy decor. I later learned that each piece was carefully thrifted by Lauren herself over the 5 years that she took preparing for Sorella to open this March (she also had the support and guidance of Designology).

The regal tones and stately bar (with stunning glass from River City Glass) made me feel like I was back home in an iconic downtown Chicago estaminet, but here there is a subtle femininity and conspicuously missing is the heavy tension that normally wafts from the kitchen to the dining room of most fine dining establishments.

sorella

Lauren burst into the dining room with the kind of energy that calmly commands attention. Her entire appearance, like her restaurant, screamed effortless elegance. I can’t remember a thing she wore, and if you know me, you know that is quite unusual. She’s the kind of person who takes up so much space with words, ideas, passion, and how she makes you feel that things like clothes and hair and handbags simply get pushed aside. I was left with the impression that she is inherently stylish, but that that is the least interesting thing about her. 

Lauren has 20 years of experience working in the restaurant industry, the last 10 of which were spent at Assaggio in Seattle, Washington. She started as a personal assistant to the owner,  then spent time on the floor as a server before working her way to general manager. She believes that her time there prepared her to open her own restaurant, saying that “I learned everything that has gotten me to this point from working there . . . it really helped me to understand the value of service and the value of the guest experience.” She stated, “If you can work for Assaggio, you can work anywhere.”

Lauren’s unique approach to hospitality struck me: “Guests should always feel like they are important and at home, but staff is my number 1 priority; staff supersedes the guests and the food. If my staff is taken care of, the guests will feel that. I want my staff to feel seen and heard. I’m not looking for disposable employees. While they’re here, I want it to be enjoyable and worth their while.”

Lauren decided that she wanted to move home to Spokane and open her own restaurant back in 2018, but due to unforeseen delays and a global pandemic, she was not able to open until March of 2023. She didn’t get discouraged; rather, she made good use of her time. She explained, “I spent three years cooking and developing the menu and thrifting and collecting all of the decor. It gave me the opportunity to carefully curate the space and provide a different visual experience for Spokane. I also spent a ton of time traveling and trying out Italian restaurants in New York and mItaly to finalize the menu and visual concept.”

Below is my interview with Lauren. Enjoy!

What led you to the restaurant world?

I was a professional Makeup Artist, a Real Estate Agent, and everything led me back to this industry. Now I feel like I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing. It feels so natural. 

The thing I love about hospitality and customer service is that you never know what you’re walking into. You serve 150 people in a day and wake up and do it again for another 150 people. I was not born to sit behind a desk and do paperwork. I’d rather do this for 14-16 hours a day than do desk work for 6 hours/day. 

How did you decide to go out on your own?

I wanted to put myself out there and see what I could do. I put an extraordinary amount of faith in myself (along with my friends and family). I believed in myself. I have a really difficult time with complacency. I need something that is challenging and ever-changing. I do not thrive in a safe environment. 

I knew if I didn’t do it, I’d want to do it. I’m so passionate about restaurants and dining. It feels magical every day.

I wanted to cultivate a different experience. The nicest thing people say to me is “I don’t feel like I’m in Spokane. The goal is to hopefully raise the bar, encouraging other restaurateurs/business owners to step out of the typical box. 

This is exactly where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m very lucky. 

What scared you most about the idea of working for yourself?

Ultimately, failing scared me most. Also reception – I have this vision ,and I think it’s going to be extraordinary, but will everyone else receive it? I’m a people pleaser, and being this vulnerable is terrifying. It’s like standing naked on the street corner. You’re baring your entire soul and life and you can only hope that people appreciate what you’re doing. 

What excited you most?

I knew that I was capable of providing people with a different working environment. The standard is kind of low. I looked at it as an opportunity to really make people fall in love with what this business is. It doesn’t have to just be a way to pay your bills. I want my staff o realize the amount of impact you can have on a guest. 

What has been most surprising?

Lauren explained that she has been surprised by four main things. 

  1. I never thought we’d be a reservation-only place. 
  1. The support. I didn’t know people in the industry here, and they are so supportive. I have felt so fortunate to come into a community that is excited for another restaurant. 
  1. Things going as I hoped. 
  1. I’ve impressed myself with my ability to not get stuck on what happened the day before.

What has been most rewarding?

At least once a day, someone tells me they love their job. It just boils down to my deep-rooted love and desire to make a difference. 

What has been most challenging?

Because I am young and close in age and adore my staff so much, boundaries have been a challenge. I want to have relationships with my staff and have fun, but I have to be the boss at the end of the day. Also, the constant need to pivot and change things as I learn.

What advice do you have for folks who are thinking about taking the plunge and starting their own businesses?

ASK FOR HELP. I’m a very Do-It-Yourself person, and that is a detriment. I’ve been so self-reliant that I have a hard time letting people help me.  It is so important to delegate. Look around and see what your resources are. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. Be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. 

Finally, comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t fixate on what others are doing. Sometimes it’s ok to do the bare minimum. We’re all just doing our best. 

What is your 1-year goal for your business?

I honestly don’t have one, because I’m just trying to get through today. My advice is don’t worry about that. Stay focused on the day-to-day. The beauty of this business is that it is ever changing and unpredictable. I want the guests to continue to be happy; I want my staff to continue to be happy, and I want to be growing. 

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

There will only be one Sorella, but I do plan to open more businesses. I’d love to fill in the gaps in the food scene. Keeping the service and atmosphere consistent but different concepts. 

Do you love what you do?

100%. I could not imagine doing anything else.

What is your morning routine?

I wake up at 6:30 AM and am out of bed by 7:30 AM. I take an hour, because it’s typically my only hour to myself. Typically, I wake up slowly, make coffee, and check email and social media. Then, I take a walk and listen to a podcast, take my vitamins, and take a shower. By 9 AM, I’ve hit the ground running. 

My most sacred time is the hour and half I take to get ready before dinner service. 

Visit Sorella’s website here.

Rachel French, Owner, Rachel French Photography

If you haven’t heard the name Rachel French, you will soon. This tiny dynamo oozes talent while maintaining humility and a desire to learn, and I cannot wait to tell my kids that I once talked shop with her over tea. Rachel is the kind of person who immediately puts one at ease with earnest, endearing chatter and a smile that is always on the verge of spilling out as she talks of her work.

rachel french

When I sat down with Rachel, I found myself feeling like I was chatting with an old friend. Her authenticity and excitement made me feel excited about her work and the future of our community.

Before I dive into Rachel’s take on business, entrepreneurship, and photography, let’s talk a bit about her background. Rachel is originally from Portland, Oregon, and moved to the area to study Public Relations and Marketing at Gonzaga University. It was during her sophomore year that she started her pursuit of photography as a hobby. She explained that “I have always been into the arts. I painted and drew, so this was an extension of this. I was drawn to styled shoots.”

Rachel began shooting family and friends and then collaborated with other photographers and coordinated larger shoots. By the time she graduated and began full-time work at an advertising agency, she had several paying clients and continued to pursue her passion during nights and weekends. When she was laid off from her agency in November of 2022, it was just the push she needed. She said, “it kind of forced me to reevaluate what I wanted to do.” Because of her diligence as a weekend warrior, she already had consistent clients, and more importantly, she stated, “I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try it.” 

Below is my interview with Rachel. 

What scared you most about the idea of working for yourself?

I knew if I worked hard enough I could get clients and make money, but for me, it was the logistics of business management that were scariest for me–the licensing, taxes, reporting, recording, and budgeting. I am a creative person, not a business/logistics person. I’ve had to learn a lot. I owe credit to my fiance for his help and support. He is in finance. 

I was overwhelmed by all of the little steps, but I had to remind myself that I just had to take it one step at a time.

What excited you most?

I think one of the most exciting things was getting to have the time to actually focus and invest in my craft. Before, it was a side gig on the weekends, so I couldn’t invest too much in it. Now, I have time to update my website and branding, and to reach out and find more businesses.

I was also excited by the reality that I could set my schedule and balance and take on as much or as little work as I wanted. I didn’t have a boss/manager deciding things. As long as I booked a certain amount of shoots/month and could get editing done, I could be really flexible for my fiance and my family. I will be a stepmom soon. 

What has been most surprising?

Something that I wasn’t as prepared for was the amount of money I would have to invest into the business. (sales tax, tracking business expenses). If I didn’t have savings, I would have been screwed. Now I know that I should have an accountant. 

What has been most rewarding?

Seeing how the photos improve the business of my clients, and seeing my photos on a website or packaging. I love really refining their businesses and helping them reach their full potential. Seeing businesses elevate from an amateur is so rewarding.

What has been most challenging?

One big thing that took a lot of trial and error was creating my contracts for clients and clearly communicating my pricing.

It’s hard because you want to be accessible, but ultimately you want your work to be valued. If a business doesn’t see the value in my work, then I need to accept that maybe that’s not the client for me. Before, I would have just charged less. I understand that a lot of small businesses have a small advertising/marketing budget. 

What is your goal for the next year of your business?

To see my work in Spokane in a big marketing campaign. It has happened when I was with an agency, but now I want to do that on my own. 

What is your goal for the next five years of your business?

My overarching goal is to be hired and be shooting with clients that are high-budget. Whether that is people in different cities, being hired on through an agency for their clients, etc. I’m trying to get to the point where I’m booking fewer shoots that make more money. 

What advice do you have for folks who are thinking about taking the plunge?

First off, my biggest piece of advice is to make sure you at least have a business bank account. Get your ducks in a row by researching how your business is supposed to report taxes, etc. My second piece of advice is: don’t be overwhelmed by the details. In reality, they aren’t as bad as you expect. When I actually did those things, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It was really my own mental block. You don’t need to have a degree in business or be super savvy to do it. 

Do you love what you do?

Yes [I must note here that she said this confidently without pausing]. There is definitely a lot of burnout in creative fields. There are definitely shoots and jobs I’m not passionate about, but overall, I’m passionate about photography. The shoots I am passionate about make up for the ones I am not. I had to accept that I won’t be excited about every single shoot, but I still love it, and it’s still always exciting to get a new client and come up with a concept. 

What is your morning routine?

I’m a morning person. My routine is not cool or aesthetic. I wake up around 6 am and Aaron [her fiance] and I work out together. I try to work out every day during the week, because it helps give me energy. Then, I come home and have breakfast. It is important for me to not skip meals. My schedule is always different. If I’m editing, I shower, do my facial self-care and sit down and work on editing. I try to switch off every hour or so from editing to doing something around the house that’s valuable. I’ll edit for an hour, do the dishes, then edit, then run an errand. 

Learn more about Rachel French and contact her here.

It’s clear this woman is far too focused on her craft and building her business to realize that in 6 short months, she’s taken Spokane by storm and already become a big deal ALL ON HER OWN. 

Jessica Yefremov, Owner, Simple Wildflower

Upon even short interactions with Jessica Yefremov, her strength, confidence, and drive are undeniable. An intangible quality about her suggests she’s overcome adversity and is ready to do it again. Every time I enter Simple Wildflower, her clothing boutique and the headquarters for her permanent jewelry business, I feel that I’ve been transported to a trendy spot in New York City.

Jessica from Simple Wildflower

Jessica elevates any room she enters, and her business has already elevated the Spokane fashion scene. She has the unique ability to strike a balance between the timeless and the cutting-edge. This is evidenced by her trendy yet demure space, and her collection that always contains both staple pieces and statement pieces, and the fact that she was the first to bring permanent jewelry to the area. It’s wild to think that this was merely a side hustle for a busy mom and full-time phlebotomist a few short months ago. 

Before we dive into my interview with Jessica and soak up her wisdom, let’s put her into context with a little background info.

Jessica was born in Kyrgyzstan and lived there until her family moved to Bellingham, Washington when she was ten years old. She spoke only Russian until the move, so she recounts that “it was definitely an adjustment to go to school every day and not know what my teachers were saying, but through all the challenges in less than one year, I was fluent in speaking English and started to translate for my family when needed.” I was not surprised; this explains her aforementioned strength, confidence, and drive. 

Jessica explained that “I always worked for the things I wanted. I got my very first job when I was 15 years old and was able to save up to buy my first dream car.” She later trained in cosmetology and did hair for a couple of years. Always looking for a new challenge, she later set her sights on the medical field and became first a medical assistant and then a phlebotomist. Jessica speaks fondly of her time in this position: “I worked as a phlebotomist for a very long time, and it was truly my most favorite position.” Both of these positions gave her the steady hands necessary for quality permanent jewelry.

Below is my interview with Jessica. Enjoy!

What led you to the world of fashion and retail? 

I’ve always loved fashion and always wanted to do something for myself to have more financial freedom. Honestly, during the pandemic, I had way too much free time, and I ended up on the small business side of TikTok. I enjoyed watching small businesses grow and started trying out different ideas. There were lots of trials and failures. but that did not stop me. I had a great support system at home who believed in me and helped me to push forward.

How did you decide to start your own business? 

At first, the plan was to just print and sell t-shirts online. But little did I know how my plan was going to have an unimaginable plot twist of my life. I launched my online website in October 2021. Shortly after, a friend of mine sent me a video of a cute space in Downtown Spokane and said ‘I can see you in this space.’ I instantly fell in love with the beautiful store front and brick wall inside. The next day, I called the agent and met with her during my 30 minute lunch break. The whole drive to the meeting I prayed and said ‘God, if you think this is for me, this meeting will go smoothly and there will be no complications.’ As soon as we met with the leasing agent, I knew the space was mine. I signed a contract the very next day! It was definitely scary but exciting at the same time.

What scared you most about the idea of working for yourself? 

Not being able to support my children and failing.

What excited you most? 

The process of remodeling and anticipating the opening of my shop. When I decided to add permanent jewelry service to my boutique, I checked Instagram and Google daily to see if anyone had the same idea as me. I created hashtags #permanentjewelryspokane, #permanentjewelrycda, #spokanepermanentjewelry on instagram and was so excited to introduce this trend to our surrounding areas.

What has been most surprising? 

Some people not being as happy or supportive of my hard work as I expected.

What has been most rewarding? 

Support from our community. I enjoy meeting new people and building new relationships.

What has been most challenging? 

To tell myself that it’s okay to take some time off.

What advice do you have for folks who are thinking about taking the plunge and starting their own businesses? 

It’s definitely a rollercoaster but such an exciting and rewarding experience.

What is a goal you have for the next year of your business? To expand.

Do you love what you do? 

Most definitely! It’s a passion. It’s a fulfilling experience that brings a sense of purpose and satisfaction to my life.

What is your morning routine?

I take my children to school, workout with my trainer, get a healthy meal in and get on my laptop and get work done. I do love to squeeze in morning coffee dates when possible.

Learn more about Simple Wildflower and follow on Instagram here.

Empowering Success: Three Local Women Redefining Entrepreneurship

I hope these insights from three local entrepreneurs inspire you as much as they inspired me. Whether you’re meant to build your own business or not, I hope their stories hype you and give you the tools you need to live with audacity, pursue your passions, and flip the script when necessary!

xoxo Your Favorite Late Bloomer

Bailey Bowerman

Bailey is a self-proclaimed recovering attorney and late bloomer. She loves words, rest, and hyping entrepreneurs and creatives. She lives in Idaho with her husband and is decidedly and unapologetically NOT outdoorsy.

READ ALL OF Bailey’s ARTICLES HERE.

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