Q&A with Michelle Chicago, co-owner of Zita’s Novelty Gifts, about offering a wide array of unique gift items and cooking up some tasty take-and-bake options
Zita’s Novelty Gifts
2020 Oakton Street in Park Ridge
Q: What led you to the decision to launch Zita’s?
As small business owners ourselves, we decided to come together as partners in one business that would not only be beneficial to our individual brands, but also allow us to elevate and promote other small businesses. We each believe in helping others achieve their business and professional goals. We also believe that it is important to give back to others and the community.
My idea originally was just to find a commercial kitchen space, but after seeing the front space of the new Zita’s location, a light bulb went off, and I decided that it would be great to turn the front space into a novelty gift shop and offer an array of unique gift items. I wanted the space to have a higher-end, warm, boutique feel to it. I also realized that I could give the various small business owners that I’d encountered along my journey an opportunity to showcase their products and grow their businesses, in addition to bringing something special to the Park Ridge community — a novelty gift shop which also offers a take-and-bake menu for busy families and professionals.
I’ve always had a passion for cooking since I was a little girl, watching and helping my mom and grandma prepared food. I’ve always believed in keeping a pantry full of staples can turn any dinner into a masterpiece. For those who don’t like to or have the time to cook, Zita’s has it for you ready to go!
Zita’s commercial kitchen is permeating with the aroma of something yummy. From the sweet smell of pasta sauce for our lasagna to the decadent aroma of chocolate for our M.E.E. brand body scrub and coconut chocolates, we are always working hard in the kitchen.
Cooking developed into a passion for me, and became the impetus for my business, Chicago Sauces, which includes various sauces like original BBQ (sweet & slightly spicy), chipotle strawberry peach, Chicago fire (spicy), and my signature honey mustard sauce (with a hint of spice). It was this passion and business that led me to find the location, which is now Zita’s Novelty Gifts (equipped with a full commercial kitchen).
The partnership with my Zita’s co-owner Atonio came about through various conversations we had with each other about goals and what we wanted to accomplish outside of our regular careers. Atonio came up with the idea of M.E.E. — (Motivate yourself + others), (Elevate your knowledge, your game), (Eliminate negativity) — after being self-motivated during a rather hectic day at the office and seeking to stay in a positive mental place. After running it by me as sort of just a slogan or mantra that he would live by going forward, I encouraged him to think about doing more with it. … Soon, a brand was launched and a partnership was formed where we would promote our brands and businesses under one roof while co-owning Zita’s.
M.E.E. seeks to inspire and motivate others to achieve their goals and reach greatness in their lives, and the brand includes hoodies, women’s t-shirts, body scrub, lip scrub, chocolates, candles and dog treats.
Q: Tell us a bit about some of your vendors and their products?
A: We are excited to offer a variety of different small business under one roof, with an array of different items. The majority of our vendors are woman-owned small businesses. We like to say that whatever gift item you’re looking for, Zita’s has it.
We have vendors who are master craftsmen and making beautiful cutting boards, wood pieces with collegiate logos, as well as fun party games. We have two individual artists who turn photos into amazing prints, coasters and other unique artwork.
Zita’s also has vendors that make their own jewelry and carry their own life or beauty products. There is a brand of Greek olive oil and honey, which our vendor has shipped to the U.S. directly from their family-owned business in Greece. We even have a vendor that roasts and brews his own brand of coffees. One of the aesthetically pleasing products at Zita’s is a beautiful array of crystals, as well as sea glass from Lake Michigan and jewelry from multiple vendors.
Zita’s also has traditional items like notepads, wine toppers, lip balms, candles, wine glasses, shot glasses, dog toys and collars, baby clothes, housewares, such as mugs and decorative bottles, and much more.
I wanted the space to have a higher-end, warm, boutique feel to it. I also realized that I could give the various small business owners I’d encountered along my journey an opportunity to showcase their products and grow their businesses.
Q: What kind of tasty things are you cooking up in Wally’s old kitchen?
A: Zita’s commercial kitchen is permeating with the aroma of something yummy. From the sweet smell of pasta sauce for Zita’s lasagna to the decadent aroma of chocolate for our M.E.E. brand body scrub and coconut chocolates, we are working hard in the kitchen to bring something tasty and memorable to our customers. Our menu offers several take-and-bake dishes like lasagna, stuffed pepper casserole, chili and olive bread, cookies and desserts, as well as our signature dill dips and hot sauces.
We are continuously brainstorming ideas. The menu may change from time to time depending on the season, but one thing that will remain a staple is Zita’s olive bread.