IJ Clinic Helps Perfect Peace Find a Perfect Home

October 2007

IJ Clinic Helps Perfect Peace
Find a Perfect Home

By Beth Milnikel

After years of waiting, hoping, dreaming, planning and praying, Denise Nicholes and Julie Welborn have opened the doors to Perfect Peace Café & Bakery.  When customers walk through those doors, they not only enter a friendly, bright, clean eatery, but also a new era for a beleaguered block in Chicago’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood.

The block where Denise and Julie rented space was a series of empty storefronts in a neighborhood that residents and block clubs have been slowly reclaiming from gangs.  With true entrepreneurial vision, Julie and Denise saw a host of opportunities there:  an opportunity to serve customers who did not have many local options for good food; an opportunity to rent and renovate two storefronts in their price range; an opportunity to combine Julie’s managerial experience with Denise’s culinary training; and an opportunity to initiate a positive change in the neighborhood where they go to church.

In March 2006, when they came to the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship for help negotiating the lease, Julie and Denise planned to open Perfect Peace in June of that year.  But setbacks and delays began to multiply.  The contractor with whom they applied for building permits blew by deadlines and doubled his original estimate.  The entrepreneurs had to raise additional capital, and the IJ Clinic helped them create loan agreements with investors.  The IJ Clinic also began to walk them through all the permits they would need to operate the restaurant legally and the regulations they would have to follow for workplace safety and payroll taxes.  As with all of our clients who seek to grow businesses within the inner city, we provided these services for free.

“Perfect Peace is a
shining example of the difference individual entrepreneurs can make in their communities.”

Denise and Julie never lost sight of their dream for a high-quality, inviting cafe in Auburn-Gresham.  To survive the delays financially, they began to cater.  To save money, they rented space in a commercial kitchen from 2 to 4 a.m.  Kathy Lee, a student working in the IJ Clinic, remembers one of her first meetings with the pair: “We were in a tiny conference room reviewing a web of health and safety regulations when Denise brought in a box brimming with treats.”  When Kathy got to sample the goods—admittedly, a perk of representing a bakery—she thought, “This doesn’t taste like three in the morning.”  She marvelled, “To me, that is part of the magic of Perfect Peace—the bright storefront and immaculate food don’t betray the hard work and long hours that went into bringing the business to the community.”

Top, IJ client Julie Welborn meets with IJ Clinic Assistant Director Praveen Kosuri, while law students Kathy Lee and Marylynne Hunt-Dorta meet with client Denise Nicholes during the build-out of the Perfect Peace Bakery. Below, IJ Clinic Director Beth Milnikel meets with Nicholes, Welborn and IJ Clinic Summer Fellow Matthew Stanton.

Perfect Peace opened this July, more than one year after the founders had planned, but the customers are lining up for lunch and desserts, and custom orders for cakes are increasing.  Customers are amazed that Julie and Denise invested so much time, effort and money into their neighborhood.  Neighbors thank them for sweeping the front stoop, keeping a clean bathroom, and putting in a big, airy plate glass window instead of bulletproof windows and gates.  And that’s before they even taste the red velvet cake!

Perfect Peace is a shining example of the difference individual entrepreneurs can make in their communities.  Having endured a long wait to open, and now working 15-hour days, Denise and Julie have practiced perfect perseverance and perfect patience to give their customers Perfect Peace.

Beth Milnikel directs the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School.

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