It's A Business, Man

Male Entrepreneurs Helping Define Denver

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Despite what the number of small businesses lining the streets of Denver might suggest otherwise, possessing both the desire and skill set to successfully run a business is a rare and exciting occurrence.  

From preparing delicious food at brunch to cozy custom closets to home security, these five entrepreneurs have consistently approached their work as respectful, passionate and welcoming individuals, hopeful that they can provide a customer experience deserving of the spotlight.

Adam Schlegel, Founder of Chook Chicken and brother of Jon Schlegel

When and how did you get into the restaurant business?

2005. My brother had a dream to open a restaurant. I had lots of business skills and background but found little fulfillment with my big corporate gig. I jumped in to help anywhere I could; building a website, cooking on the line, turning the place green, providing some balance.

How does Chook Chicken tie into your passions in life?

It’s a continuation of what I held dear at Snooze: The ability for a business to be a force for good. We know where our food is from, our farmers are our partners, our team feels fulfilled, and guests enjoy delicious, responsible and affordable meals. Being a part of change and experience inspires me each day.

If you had to choose a different job in a different industry, what would you pick and why?

An artist. I have a deep admiration for someone who creates, who can express themselves and the world — be it in a building, a sculpture or the side of a building.

Or a principal. I love teaching. I love learning and think the challenge of fostering the parents, teachers, students and community to make a better future is so admirable.

What do you do to maintain a balanced life? How do you disconnect from work? 

First, my family is the most important thing to me, and I won’t let anything get in the way of being a great father, and hopefully a great husband. I love coaching my boys’ soccer teams or skating, climbing or whatever infatuation they’ve learned this month. Travel was the cornerstone of my marriage, so spending time away, ideally at the ocean, with my wife and family, always grounds me.

And running. I run for sanity.

What’s the best life advice you’ve received?

“Not in his speech, not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life.” 
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Jon Schlegel, Owner of Snooze Eatery and brother of Adam Schlegel

When and how did you get into the restaurant business?

I was fourteen and wanted a bike. My parents dropped me off at a friend’s restaurant. I remember after my shift: I got a free meal, $9 in cash, and was offered a cigarette. I knew this was going to be my career then. 

How does Snooze tie into your passions in life?

More than passion…it’s the purpose. To take the most valuable gift we all have, time, and to embrace that responsibility and create lasting memories is one of my reasons to get up each morning!

If you had to choose a different job in a different industry, what would you pick and why? 

I’d take 3rd base of the Colorado Rockies. I’d love to bat 3rd or 4th. Thankfully, we already have the best person in MLB for the job at Coors Field, so I’ll stick to food and beverage. 

What do you do to maintain a balanced life? How do you disconnect from work? 

Thankfully, I married a woman who understood my career choice. I was managing a bar when I met my wife, so while she understands the type of person she married, Megan also helps me with that balance and to help raise two amazing boys. I don’t feel the need to disconnect, but being in the hills of Monforte d’Alba or on the Blue River in Colorado certainly helps to see a larger version of what’s possible in life

What’s something you’ve learned recently that surprised you?

I was holding my six-month-old nephew last week. His eyes and the way he stares at the world were mesmerizing; the simple gestures that brought forth his smile, his fierce grip on a new, but somewhat familiar arm.

It’s grounding to see how simple, unprejudiced and opportunistic this little boy, or any young child, is. The world is for children, really. How can I help them?

Malachi O’Neill, Vice President of Business Development at Mountain Aviation

How did you end up at a private jet management and charter company?

I was guiding white water and climbing trips and got into hang gliding. With hang gliding, I then got into powered aviation, which led me into aviation, and this job.

How does your work at Mountain Aviation tie into your passions in life?

Aesthetically, there’s a lot to aviation that I enjoy. There’s that deep underlying awe and simultaneous excitement and peace that is aviation. But from a business standpoint, I’ve enjoyed being a part of the success of our company and the job itself.

It’s a great way for me to use my technical and interpersonal skills to serve my clients. I enjoy getting to know our clients and helping them succeed and improve the world in each of their own ways. It’s just great to be a part of it all.

How often do you fly?

Not much these days. Between business and family life, I’m pretty well tapped out as it is. But that’s fine with me because one of the cool things about my job is that I’m at the hangar every day, seeing clients and talking with mechanics and pilots. I get to monitor the weather and see and hear and smell the jet engines every day and see our clients depart for and arrive from wherever we take them.

What would you tell someone interested in running their own business?

Don’t forget the long-term vision that started it all. When I remember the “why” of what we do, the individual obstacles are put into perspective.

At the same time, details matter. We are in aviation, after all. For me, it’s a balance between those two – the long-term vision and the precise execution of details. Details are what move it all forward, but it’s easy to get distracted by the details. For me, it’s about developing my team and making sure that they can handle the details and also that they see and believe the long-term vision.

How do you disconnect and maintain a balanced life?

I’m still active in white water and rowing rivers and fly fishing, and that’s a great way for me to stay active in that part of my life.

For me at least, it’s about strategic unplugging: be intentional about crafting time away. I‘ve learned that I do better when I give myself intentional time away and just let my mind think about totally different things and process subconsciously. When I come back, I’m refreshed and see challenges in a new way and have creative solutions.

Dan Stern, Owner of Aurum Home Technology

When and how did you get into the home tech industry?

I started in 1995. I was looking for a new job and met with a head hunter. They set up an interview with a company in the industry, and I thought it was pretty damn cool. I pursued the opportunity and excelled at it. I liked the technology but was always focused more on the design, and I found technology could be used to enhance the overall look and design of our clients’ homes.

How does Aurum Home Tech tie into your passions in life?

I’ve always been very focused on details and felt little things made a difference. From the way you treat people and interact with friends and family to the way you dress and present yourself.

If you had to choose a different job in a different industry, what would you pick and why?

I don’t know. I’ve been doing this for the past 25 years, and I am incredibly passionate about it. I never knew I would love it as much as I do.

How do you disconnect from work? 

Mountain bike, ski, hike and spend time with my son, Ari, and fiancé, Joy. I love to cook and eat. I enjoy traveling and recently got into scuba diving with Joy. That has been an incredible experience.

I find I have a hard time fully disconnecting, but I am trying. Turning off the phone is an effort I have been making lately.

What’s something you’ve learned recently that surprised you?

The amount of pleasure that having a dog in our lives brings us. Her name is Rebel, and she is often a fixture at the office. She brings an immense amount of happiness to all whom she interacts with.

Jeff Faine, Founder, owner and sole employee of Jeff Faine Design and Hone Closet Systems

When did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

My dad is incredibly handy and mechanically inclined. Growing up, I was his sidekick, and he taught me how to “work the tools.” In high school, I started to explore woodworking and furniture making, and it quickly became a passion of mine.

I never envisioned it as being a career, but when you graduate during the largest recession of all-time, you have to figure out another way to make money. Having hands-on skills that allowed me to pivot is something I’ll always be grateful for my dad teaching me.

If you had to have a choose a different job in a different industry, what would you pick and why?

Helicopter mechanic. Helicopters are super sophisticated machines, and I think working on them would be incredibly fascinating and challenging.

How has your understanding of your work changed over time?

Even if you love what you do, if you’re grinding 50, 60, 70 hours a week, it’s not fun anymore. I’ve gotten a lot better about outsourcing parts and pieces of my business. Knowing when to complete things in-house and when to let the robots do the work has been huge.

This opens up more time for friends, family and travel, which in the end, are way more important than any job you’re working on or business you’re building.

What do you do to maintain a balanced life? How do you disconnect from work?

Piano lessons and boxing with a trainer. These are two activities I’ve found where I literally have to disconnect and not think about anything else but the task at hand.

My wife and I enjoy dinners, drinks and city activities on nights and weekends. I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving my phone at home when we go out. As long as she has hers for emergencies and Uber, we’re good to go.

What’s something you’ve learned recently that surprised you?

Taking piano lessons has been a new, exciting endeavor for me. I’m a music junkie, so I get excited about all things music, but learning an instrument is so challenging and stimulating.

Blake Adams, Founder of Fetch Market

When and how did you get into being an entrepreneur?

I think from an early age. I was motivated to “do my own thing.” Since college at least, which was a while ago, I have done something more or less on my own; I was a real estate broker, I was in outdoor advertising with my own company, and then started the Denver Flea.

If you had to choose a different job in a different industry, what would you pick and why?

I would love to mow yards! Halfway seriously, I think one of the most challenging things as a business owner is the amount you’re juggling. If I was going to do something else, something as instantly gratifying as mowing yards might be higher on my list than I otherwise might have expected. 

How has your understanding of your work changed over time?

The understanding of the ripple effect of my business has changed. What we do directly affects so many other companies; we’re not just selling a product that you either buy or don’t. We’re creating opportunities for businesses to grow.

What’s the best life advice you’ve received?

Denver real estate developer Evan McCloskey once told me, “Always have passion for what you’re doing while keeping your eyes on the future.”

What’s something you’ve learned recently that surprised you?

I never understood what being a parent was like until I had a kid. I feel like I have joined an exclusive club, where the only way to get in is to have a kid.

To understand the way I feel about him, and understand somewhat of what any other parent must feel, or hopefully feels about their own children, gives me a lot of inspiration from the standpoint of believing that we are all very capable of emotionally connecting with each other and loving each other if we can look at the way we feel about our kids and understand how our parents hopefully feel about us.

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