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Women in Business

Women in Business: Yesterdays

Posted on Thursday, January 14, 2021

Learn how Jen Ferrell climbed the ladder to restaurant ownership in this Q&A session.

image of Yesterdays

Women in Business: Jen Ferrell Finds Her Path to Restaurant Ownership

This is Part 5 of our series featuring successful women business owners throughout Iowa

For the last 35 years, Yesterdays has been a staple of the Okoboji community for those seeking a seafood and steak dinner with their families. If you’re a frequent attendee of weddings or other private events in the area, chances are they’ve served you as well.

After 33 years in business, the restaurant’s original owners, the Zahradnik family, retired and sold the business to Jen Ferrell, a seasoned veteran of the restaurant industry. In this Q&A session, we ask Jen about what inspired her to own a restaurant, where she turned for help while getting started, and what she has learned along the way.

photo of Jen FerrellQ: What inspired you to purchase Yesterday’s and become a business owner?

Ferrell: I have always known that I wanted to work in the restaurant business. I got my start as a busser when I was 14. I was never good at interviewing for jobs outside of the restaurant industry because whenever asked where I saw myself in five years my answer was never about moving up in that company. I would always say I saw myself owning a restaurant. My husband and I moved back to Northwest Iowa three years ago and when Yesterdays became available, I knew it was a perfect fit.

Q: What financial resources have been the most helpful as you entered business ownership?

Ferrell: Paul Daniels from Northwest Bank has been the most useful resource for me. He connected me with the Small Business Development Center and with the right people in the community to help me move forward with purchasing the restaurant. Paul and the SBDC have such a great relationship that it made the whole process so much easier than I think it would have been in a bigger city.    

Q: Who are the people that have helped you most along the way?

Ferrell: I have had great support from my family. The have been understanding as I have been spending most of my time working at the restaurant. My husband, Rick, has jumped into the role of two people running a household and did so without any hesitation. The previous owners, the Zahradniks, have given me more support than I ever thought possible. They want to see this restaurant that they have built continue to succeed. Whether it’s knowing the ins and outs of the building, or a piece of equipment, they are always a phone call away and can answer any question I have. 

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of business ownership?

Ferrell: The most rewarding part is the new people I’ve gotten to meet since taking over and developing relationships with my staff. When we, as a staff, pull together as a work family, we get the job done and figure out ways to make each night work. There’s always a new challenge to conquer and I’m fortunate enough to have a staff that can adjust at the drop of a hat. On the catering side, it’s an honor to take part in someone’s special day and help make sure everything goes off without a hitch. It’s rewarding to have a guest, or the host of an event come up to me and say “this was everything I imagined. It was perfect.”

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced so far?

Ferrell: I think the hardest challenge is balancing my work life and my home life. My son is 11 years old and we went from me being home every day to me being gone until past his bedtime every day. The summer has been fantastic though because he’s been able to come to work with me. Those few extra hours that I get to spend with him each week during that time have been amazing.

Q: What have you learned about leadership since becoming a business owner?

Ferrell: There is a definite variation in how people from different generations view and react to leadership. I am a part of a generation where you’re told what to do by an authority figure, and you do it. Some of the younger generations view it a little differently and are more likely to challenge the status quo. In some ways, the younger generation is better at thinking outside the box and finding efficient ways to get a job done. So, I’ve had to learn ways to best address everyone. It’s been interesting to find the right balance for each person.

Q: How do you achieve a work-life balance?

Ferrell: Communication is key. There are odd little things that need to be done for our home each day like getting groceries, so we’ve had to stay in contact to make sure that those things get done.  As long as the lines of communication are open, whether it’s a text message or quick phone calls throughout the day, we’ve been able to connect and stay united.

Q: Have there been any mentors that have played an important role in your success in the restaurant business? 

Ferrell: In every restaurant I’ve worked at, there has been somebody who has served as a mentor and has helped me learn. They came from all walks of life and different departments of the restaurant business. I feel fortunate for all the people I’ve worked for in the past that have made me who I am as a restaurant owner. Whether it’s learning how to manage front-of-house staff, or learning how to watch food and labor costs, I can think of about 10 people that have played a role in me wanting to continue working in this business.

Q: What advice would you give another woman who is thinking about becoming a business owner?

Ferrell: I would say don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t find the answers you’re looking for, find someone who knows. When I found the right group of people that could support me and answer my questions, that’s when I knew it was a good fit and I was moving in the right direction. Find your goal, whether it’s big or small, and figure out the steps you need to take to make it happen.

Get on the Right Path with Northwest Bank

Whether you’re building your business from the ground up, or taking over an established business, we have the connections and resources to help make your business ownership dreams come true. Get started by contacting a commercial banker from Northwest Bank today.

This has been Part 5 of our series featuring successful Iowa women business owners. Click here to get caught up on Parts 1 through 4.

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