Women-Owned Business: Owners are driven by an entrepreneurial spirit
With this issue we launch a series on businesses owned exclusively by women throughout San Diego County.
Some run multi-million-dollar businesses and others own businesses that are somewhat smaller, but what they have in common is an entrepreneurial spirit and dedication that drives their success.
We start with Laurie Black, who launched her first company in 1986 to do political campaigns; Tracy Borkum, who has taken her career from a cocktail waitress to owning the wildly successful Cucina Urbana and Kensington Grill restaurants; Bonnie Kutch, who founded her own public relations company in 1991, and Lisa Wilson-Wirth, a certified kitchen designer whose firm, Arclinea San Diego, opened in 2005.
Firm: LJ Black Consulting (2001)
Motivation: “Having a few clients and four kids in school was better for a woman/mom/wife than running a large business (she was president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership). Once we (the partnership) got Clean and Safe passed in 2000, it was time to move on to consulting and make money for college educations.”
Business philosophy: “My life has not been about money. It has been about how much passion I have for the issues clients bring to us. In my life at home and in the community I usually say, less is more. Too much of anything brings chaos to the issue or policy and in San Diego we get to a point where there is so much and the planning sits on the shelves.”
Why the success: “We have been successful because we pick issues and clients that have as much passion, or more, than we do about the issues. Whether it is clean water for the city of San Diego or homelessness, we have passion for changing the status quo; albeit working with and within the current structures like SANDAG, CCDC, the city and Port of San Diego.”
How the business has been built: “By word of mouth. We turn down more clients than we take.”
Civic and charity involvement: Jewish Family Service Healing Center, Lawrence JCC, San Diego High International Studies High School Foundation. Past Board of Overseers at UCSD, Port Commission, Board Director at CCDC and the Library Commission.
Hobbies: “I have fallen in love with pilates, walking through Balboa Park, cooking and baking, reading and bird watching.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree, San Diego State University.
Family: Married to Bob Lawrence for 28-1/2 years. Children are AJ Lawrence, Dustin, Seth and Maddie.
Firm: Urban Kitchen Group
Motivation: “I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment. Both my parents had always owned their own businesses. This inspired me to want to work for myself, as well as it taught me to understand the pressures of being a leader and knowing that I would be solely responsible for not only my achievements but also my failures.”
Business philosophy: “Creating a successful restaurant requires the perfect Trifecta: Food, Service and Ambience. I am obsessively determined when it comes to achieving all three of these components at the same time. I believe this is a formula that makes the Kensington Grill and Cucina Urbana so popular.”
Why the success: “Our menus are interesting but not too adventurous that a diner is made to feel ignorant when ordering. We never jeopardize quality for price. Our service mantra is to be knowledgeable and precise in the details, showing a large dose of friendly familiarity and wearing a big smile.”
How the business has been built: “I was fortunate to have a family trust fund that enabled me to secure a lease and start construction for the Kensington Grill in 1995, and with a few additional loans from some very special people, and an immense amount of free labor from my dear family and best of friends. When Laurel came available in 2005, I jumped at the opportunity to resurrect one of the great grand dames of our city. Financing was with a traditional SBA loan and a small group of private investors. However, unfortunately, the turn in the economy got the better of us and in 2009 we transformed the space into Cucina Urbana and have never looked back.” (Borkum’s first venture outside San Diego — to be called Cucina Enoteca — will open in the fall in the Irvine Spectrum, in a space directly across from the 21 screen and IMAX movie theater.)
Civic and charity involvement: “Urban Kitchen participates in many chef tastings, educational classes and community events, helping numerous local charities raise funds. Each month, 10 of our employees visit the San Diego Food Bank to help package food for those less fortunate. This is serving as a great way to involve all of our employees in our philanthropic endeavors.”
Hobbies: “There isn’t much time for leisure as I prepare to start construction in Irvine, but I’m hoping to take a few trips over the next few months to source design ideas. Travel is paramount to the success of our business. You’ve got to get out to see what the rest of the world is doing.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree, UC Berkeley.
Firm: Kutch & Company
Motivation: “After accumulating several years of prior advertising and public relations agency experience in Honolulu and San Diego (with the all-time leading public relations firm Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger), I couldn’t help but feel that if I was working for myself, I’d be ahead of the game. Even more inviting was the opportunity to select nice clients to work with — people who I liked and admired. My first client was a long-lost friend, Julie Johnson, who owned the interior design firm, Design/Plan, which led to many others, including Johnson and Jennings General Contracting, Cavignac & Associates, Smith Consulting Architects, Schubach Aviation and McCarthy Building Companies.
Business philosophy: “My goal has never been to grow a large agency. I much prefer to keep it boutique-size so we can maintain a high level of personal service. Additionally, I feel there is a lot of advantage in working with agencies that specialize in certain niche markers as we do. Now is a very good time for companies to begin publicly emerging so they can be quick out-of-the-gate when the economy turns around. We’re geared up to help them do so.”
Why the success: “Adhering to high standards of writing and public relations professionalism and demonstrating consistency of work ethic.”
How the business has been built: “ There is truth to the notion that if you like what you do and work long and hard enough at it, you’re bound to get good at it.”
Civic and charity involvements: “My heart is with animals so that is where I have focused our agency’s community outreach and my own civic involvement these past 20 years. I have served on the Board of Advisors for the San Diego Humane Society, chaired its Fur Ball and I am currently involved with the Helen Woodward Animal Center and several local dog rescue groups.”
Hobbies: “If I could I would spend every minute outdoors hiking and do 5-7 mile hikes each weekend with my hiking group. I also enjoy gardening, swimming, bird watching, skiing, cooking and entertaining and anything that involves dogs or horses.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Washington.
Firm: Arclinea San Diego
Motivation: “I was motivated by the lack of resources in the area offering contemporary design products and solutions for kitchens, bathrooms and whole-house interiors. I had traveled extensively in Europe on business and had been introduced to manufacturers like Arclinea, impressive family-run and operated businesses, producing world-class products to a degree of precision and craft that far exceeded local alternatives.”
Business philosophy: “As a certified kitchen designer, I believe that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and by providing more innovation and better quality products we can improve the quality of life for the families we work with.”
Why the success: “Whether designing serene bathroom environments or kitchens where cooking and eating together are every day pleasures, passion and a dedication to service is evident in each of our projects. Our office works directly with homeowners and the trade (architects, designers, builders, developers). We offer experienced, bilingual staff (project architect and designers), providing comprehensive design services for regional and international clients for kitchens, bathrooms, closets and more.”
How the business has been built: “Our clients select us not only because they are attracted to our portfolio of work, but also because they have the confidence in our business and managerial skills to orchestrate the outcome they expect. We have earned a global reputation for impeccable client service and inspirational, modern designs. We have won numerous regional and national design awards for our work and have been published internationally. Bon Appetite magazine named me designer of the ‘The New Dream Kitchen’ in a national feature editorial; Ranch & Coast magazine rewarded us ‘Kitchen of the Year’ for a local project and Nielsen’s K & BB magazine selected our downtown showroom as one of the country’s top designed.”
Civic and charity involvements: “I am actively involved with local cultural arts organizations like the MCASD, as former corporate sponsor and current founding member of their patronage group for young collectors, the Avant Garde. I continue to create dialogue on issues related to food and diet and we are one of 20 firms worldwide hosting an “Italia in Cucina” event, a global collaboration with the Italian ministry to promote the health-attributes of the Mediterranean diet (a UNESCO project). We support annual fundraising for local nonprofits, having most recently hosted our second annual holiday charitable program (the Gingerbread Collection) raising value funds and visibility for Second Chance.”
Hobbies: My husband and I are avid sailors and world travelers. Our weekends include walks with our dog in Balboa Park or along the waterfront and leisurely visits to museums like MCASD and SDMA. We entertain often and love to cook and host friends and family for creative dinner parties and dining experiences.”
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Northwestern University.