business Entrepreneur

Where's Jimmy?!

Friday, September 19, 2014 HALFSTACK MAGAZINE

Written by: Thom Olson as featured in Halfstack's Fall Issue. Read the entire issue today HERE.

It’s Sunday afternoon and you are at Oak Street Beach. A beautiful blonde comes up and asks you “Where’s Jimmy?” and proceeds to hand you a light blue package. The color is somewhat similar to Tiffany’s iconic little gift boxes. Alas… Tiffany’s is not giving away free samples... though one can still hope.  It is, however, a small sample of a fruit bar. It’s marked vegan. Some might find that word marked on the package a little scary. You either try it or throw it in your travel tote for later. 

Later you happen to be on a mud run. Could it be that running in this madness is the result of a three-martini evening where you placed a bet and lost? Thus… you are running through an obstacle course doused in soggy wet dirt. Or, is this something you volunteered for because you find it “pleasant”? Anyhow, low and behold, you see that same blonde, who hands you another taste of something wrapped in the same blue wrapper.  Exhausted and hungry, you decide to give it a try.  You eat it. OMG, you actually like it.  You ask for another and get a taste of a second flavor. You wolf it down and are on your way. Did you just have your first vegan experience?

After a shower and cozying up with a very large bar of soap, you hop on down to the Whole Foods Grocery store to get something for dinner. Who do you run in to? Yup, you guessed it. Blondie hands you a sample but this time you ask for a couple of the real deal and buy them. You have just bought a Jimmy Bar.

Jimmy Bars are a fruit-based snack bar. Each bar has all natural ingredients. In a rare twist of food packaging, all the ingredients are featured prominently on the front of the package and not in micro type buried on the back. There isn’t anything listed that leaves a question mark in your mind like Maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup or some hydrogenated goo.  You can actually pronounce all the ingredients and see there is a shelf life on the package. It’s not like a Twinkie.  Yes, it is vegan, but that is less scary now. There isn’t a dairy component added to the product nor are there any lactose bi-products added. It is gluten free — not a lot of foods can say that, particularly in the snack bar category.  The funny thing is, though, it actually tastes good without any sugar added. The base of the bar is dates. There are 4 varieties: Chocolate Chip, Banana Muffin, Peanut Butter and Apple. With all that said why are you still intrigued? It was blonde right? Or was it the food? So, you start to do some investigating, as you need an answer to the question.

Who is the blonde?
You might have run into one of the two that man the helm of this healthy snack food ship. The very athletically handsome: Jimmy Simon, Co-Founder of Jimmy Bars OR his lovely niece Ciarra. Ciarra is the extremely cute, collegiate daughter of the other Co-Founder Annette Del Prete. The pieces start to fall in to place as you recognize it. Annette is one of the owners of Fillippo’s Restaurant in Lincoln Park. You probably have been going there for many years either before or after a movie. It’s a staple destination over on Clybourn St. It is kiddy corner from Webster Place Theater.

You recognize the blonde, as you have seen her many times at Fillippo’s, waiting on you. Both businesses are a family thing. This new nutrition bar sprang into existence out of the same kitchen as your homemade pasta dinner. It stands to reason and it is no wonder why it would taste good. The restaurant has been around for over 20 years making your favorite Chicken Valdostana. The restaurant was in the neighborhood before it was a neighborhood. They make their own pasta in house and after a plate of it I asked Annette, “What’s the story?”

A word about Annette… and full disclose here. We go way back. I was a waiter in the first restaurant she managed when she got out of college. Her name was Annette Simon. That’s how we first met. A few years later, I ran into her at Fillippo’s where she was engaged to Fillippo Del Prete. They have since got married and had two kids. Annette is very smart. She knows food and is fierce in business. She is also a serial entrepreneur. She has had four businesses including: the restaurant, a Mexican fast food shop, a wholesale bakery and now Jimmy Bars. Jimmy Simon is her brother and very much like her. He is also a serial entrepreneur. He has had six businesses including a very successful IT development company, an art gallery, a commercial realty business and two paper companies.  He chuckles at doing the same business twice but he said it was fun.

He has lived on both coasts and a couple spots in between before coming back to Chicago to do take on this new venture. They both readily admit to their dad having a lot to do with their self-made state of mind. He was a commodities trader but also an entrepreneur.  He instilled in them the mindset to blaze their own paths. He said there is no pension plan option; one has to build it on-their-own in order to ensure their future. Jimmy (who is very active and very healthy) asked Annette to join him in a new business venture. This time, though,  it would be a retail food item that would leverage her expertise. Her epicurean results are what is currently being sold in over 30 states and Canada. Jimmy Bars are also beginning to ship to the UK and Australia.  It has been a very meteoric rise. They started selling bars just a year and a half ago.

You can read the full article in the Fall Issue of Halfstack Magazine - To read click HERE

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