We sat down with Yulia Stolkner of Sip of Europe in Portland, ME to learn all about her journey from Russia to the States, from coffee cart to brick and mortar. Yulia has introduced locals far and wide to authentic crepes (including “Chipollino,” inspired by her mom’s retelling of a fairy tale about an onion boy) and European-perfected coffee drinks. Read on to learn Yulia’s story!
Why did you decide to start your business? Tell us your backstory!
I came from Russia to the USA in 2015 and became an immigrant with the legal right to work. For immigrants, it is quite hard to find a job right away that correlates with their professional experience. While applying for jobs in the States – mostly related to the hospitality or food production industries – I saw the rising popularity of coffee drinks. I realized that I could easily get a barista job in any of the Russian coffee chains in order to gain the necessary skill set. I had no idea if I would need that knowledge in the near future, but I knew that it would be a good addition to my resume.
After a bit of back and forth with potential cafe locations, the advisors of City Hall recommended that I try my luck with a temporary push-cart near the Pier and gave me the contacts of the owner of that square. That plan worked successfully. I had the opportunity to start small with a push-cart. Since there are really only two ways of being in the labor market: to work for someone or to work for yourself – I decided to go my way and be my own boss.
Why do you love doing business here in Portland, ME?
While visiting Portland as a tourist, I was fascinated by the number of nice looking buildings with remarkable architecture, impressive interiors, and high ceilings. I love high ceilings! Portland charmed me with breathtaking views of the waterfront and its promenades. Being a relatively small city, Portland is very vibrant with events from art walks and festivals. There is a great restaurant scene that offers authentic approaches to food based on the heritage of the owners and chefs, as well as their vast experience.
The true treasure of the city are the business owners who are very skilled, motivated, and what is more important, friendly and approachable, and eager to share the experience and give advice or offer useful contacts. I’ve seen a great number of ways to collaborate between businesses in different fields; that is something that could only happen in a very business-friendly city with open-minded business owners.
The City of Portland makes doing business a friendly journey, giving all the necessary information and advice ahead of time and in a very kind manner. It feels like they want you to succeed and come to City Hall each year with a big smile and set of improvements and projects for your existing business.
In addition to that, the citizens and guests of Portland are in to supporting locally-owned businesses, and it is a great feeling of being chosen for the reason of being different, of being independent.
In this city it is impossible not to feel being a part of community, being needed, and appreciated.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
One of my customers suggested structuring the menu in an easier way than what I originally had: he suggested offering both crepes with specific ingredients and a build-your-own option with upfront pricing. I made the necessary changes, and as a result the customer can customize their crepes.
Also when I had the coffee cart in OOB one of the business owners who had a stand at the Pier came to me once with a coffee themed magazine. It was an unexpected and nice gesture. While I was reading the magazine I noticed an ad for the cold-brewing system, Toddy. I never heard about the technology of cold brewing before and as soon as I tried it I was impressed with its effectiveness and the product that I would get from it.
What’s your advice for other business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?
Learn about stories of success. Success is never a quick and easy state of life, it is the result of continuous attempts, failures, gainings, sometimes even the drastic changes that were absolutely unpredictable from the start of a business path.
Be ready to be criticized, be ready for failures, be ready for success, be ready for unpredictable good and bad events, be ready for help from outside of your close circle. In order to get the advice and help from people who relate to your field be open to share your experience and your plans. Be ready for long hours of work. Be persistent. React well on criticisms, consider what should be changed or done better, thank the person who gave you a feedback. Use the feedback for growth and development.
Be rational with expectations. Dream big, but start small and add improvements and innovations gradually.
Be ready to need more money than you were expecting. The first few months will significantly drain your budget.
Set your priorities. Line up your tasks according to the time by which they should be done and make a good plan of achieving all the goals.
Take notes on everything. What you liked and disliked about any experience you’ve encountered, about the achievements and new products of your competitors, about any book or article that someone highly recommends that relates to your field.
Behind every business — like Sip of Europe — is a great story. Download the Yelp mobile app to find a great business in your area. Business owners, share your story on your Yelp listing by using the free tools at biz.yelp.com.