By Kim Piekos
Carol Digman’s business acumen antennae are always up. Her knack for tuning in to potential local business opportunities and involving some of her adult children in managing them has yielded solid financial returns and an interesting life.
“We always keep our eyes and ears open to see if there’s anything that makes sense,” says Digman of her new business ventures with Dan Walsh, her partner at Tree City Investments, an investment advisory group in Lake Forest.
Carol Digman, along with her children Kelsey (middle) and Shane, have the entrepreneurial spirit.
Digman joined Merrill Lynch in 1983 and quickly tired of meetings and pressure to sell certain financial products. She and Walsh decided to start their own investment company in 1991 so that they could offer clients their investment advice at a lower cost.
“Over the years, we’ve been looking to add to our portfolio of businesses,” she explains. “As it worked out, most are local, and we love that.”
Her first company developed out of Digman’s daughter Kelsey’s love of giardiniera, an Italian relish of pickled vegetables in vinegar or oil. Kelsey noticed that giardiniera couldn’t be found in Arizona. Working with her mother, the two started a company to bring it there.
“It was one of those, if you can’t find it, create it kind of things,” Digman explains. “We did some research, found a co-packer, developed a unique recipe and launched Kelsey D’s.”
Kelsey and Digman marketed the product as well as a muffuletta at food roadshows and farmer’s markets and got traction at AJ’s Market in Arizona, followed eventually by Sunset Foods, Heinen’s and other local grocery stores and restaurants, including Bluffington’s and Scotty’s. All that changed during the pandemic as the price of peppers from Mexico soared and shipping slowed, resulting in a need to modify the company’s business strategy. Today, Kelsey D’s is sold in gallon jars to restaurants.
Digman’s antennae went up again at a 2015 lunch with Walsh in Lovell’s lower level on Waukegan Road. They learned that Lovell’s was closing and that the experienced staff was not joining Lovell at his new restaurant, given its change in dining format.
“We looked at each other and agreed it would be terrible to lose these professional waiters who had 16 years of experience working together,” Digman says. “Good people are everything to a business.”
After approaching Scotty Wallner, Lovell’s longtime bartender (reminiscent of Sam at Cheers) about the staff’s interest in working together at a new restaurant, Scotty’s on Sheridan was launched near Fort Sheridan.
“My motto is find good people, let them do their jobs and don’t micromanage,” Digman explains. “Why interrupt what they do so well?”
Scotty’s on Sheridan has a loyal clientele.
“We have the best customers,” Digman believes. “Many come in several times a week and some even have menu items named for them.”
Next up: the bakery business. After being approached by someone in the baking industry, Digman launched The Frosted Baker, a specialty cookie company, with her son, Shane, who oversees operations. Their decorated cookies are sold via 1-800-Flowers, Olive and Cocoa, Macy’s, Frontgate, QVC, Mackenzie Limited and grocery stores nationwide. The commercial bakery is located in Waukegan.
Digman is impressed with Shane’s ability to manage all aspects of the business.
“Shane knew nothing of the commercial bakery business but was a quick study, “she says “He’s become our jack-of-all-trades and creates a fun and respectful work environment for his employees.”
The beauty industry called Digman’s name in 2022 when she was approached about buying a hair salon in Lake Forest. Now called Limitless Beauty and located near Digman’s office on Western Avenue, the hair salon is managed by Digman’s new daughter-in-law, Hannah, a stylist herself.
“Learning about new business fields is the best part of doing this,” Digman says. “I love learning the lingo and all the nitty-gritty details of what it takes to make these businesses work every day.”
She likens running multiple businesses to being a mom. “You have to be able to juggle all the time because something always needs attention,” she says. “It’s always interesting!”
Digman encourages women to get out there and give business ownership a shot if they have a good idea for one. “Don’t overthink it; just make it happen!” she says. “I’ve never written a business plan a day in my life. Go by your gut. Forget about finding a roadmap to get there. Just start, get a client and build from there.”