"Maybe I just have a short attention span," says 23-year-old entrepreneur Jenny McCoy, "but I feel like I'm into everything and I want to do it all."
When she finished high school in 1997, she says, "I knew if I didn't go to school I'd probably never go back." But what to study? Her aunt, a caterer, suggested she try cooking. "I decided if I like it, I'll be a cook," says McCoy. "If I don't, I'll know how to cook--how could I go wrong?"
She landed a job as assistant pastry chef at Gordon almost immediately after graduating from the culinary arts program at Kendall College in Evanston. She stayed for nearly a year, until the restaurant closed, then moved on to Blackbird, Charlie Trotter's, the Park Hyatt, and Bittersweet bakery.
McCoy's used to bouncing around. When she was 11 her mom decided to open a B and B in Blanchardville, Wisconsin, and moved her Chicago-bred child to the town of 800. But by age 14 McCoy had had enough of small-town life, so she came back to the city alone, crashing with friends, until her mom followed a year later. She attended several different high schools--eventually graduating from Cosmopolitan--but "I hardly ever went to school," she says. "I was like, 'Woo hoo! It's a big party!'"
After three years on the restaurant scene, she says, she started to think that perhaps cooking wasn't her calling after all. "You work crazy hours, you get paid shit, and I realized if I didn't get out of this industry I'd start to hate cooking." Since then she's studied classical voice performance, Spanish, and massage therapy. In January she headed to Madrid to continue learning Spanish but, after four months, realized she was still unhappy.
She came home not long after, and, with the help of a loan from her mom, signed a lease on a small storefront near the intersection of Damen and Division.
Her newest venture, a beauty products and gift shop called StinkerBelle, opened July 11. All the delicate creams, soaps, and body scrubs she carries are environmentally friendly and/or handcrafted. She also sells candles made with lead-free wicks and soy-based wax, and jewelry, pottery, blown glass, photographs, handbags, and hats by local artisans.
"I know this seems crazy," she says. "My friends always say, 'What's with you? You're so into the learning, but never the doing.' And my dad told me, 'You're going to make a fine conversationalist someday.'... But I've always been a product junkie. With the quality of products and work in here, and the location--I think I'll be fine."
McCoy's throwing a free grand opening party on Thursday, July 31, from 5 to 9 PM. Her aunt's doing the catering. StinkerBelle's at 1951 W. Division and it's open from noon to 7 Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 6 on Sunday. Call 773-252-4120 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.