From the Mountain Tops to the East Bluff

From the Mountain Tops to the East Bluff

The Chef and The Baker Impress

By Ross Miller, Director, Illinois Small Business Development Center                                              


Climbing the mountains in Italy to cook meals for cross country skiers and climbing the ladder of Peoria area restaurants have been some of the successes of Ian and Karen Hocker. When they decided to start a business, this was another challenge they were ready to accept.

Ian and Karen took slightly different paths to end up where they are today. Ian graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in the late '90s. Then he worked as a private chef in Italy, worked in the mountains of Italy serving food to cross country skiers, and worked for a Master Chef. He recently earned his Executive Chef Certification. Karen grew up helping in the kitchen. Even after college and working in another field, she felt more satisfaction in the kitchen. Because of this, she entered and completed the restaurant management and culinary arts program at Illinois Central College. Since then, she has worked in restaurants in Chicago and Peoria learning as much as she could.

After years of experience in restaurants, it was time for Ian and Karen to make the move to starting their own business. "We reached a skill level in our careers that to 'not' take a chance doing something on our own would stagnate our drive to pursue our dreams," said Ian. Karen says, "Although it is great to be my own boss, this was not my plan. I'm just supporting my husband.… I'm here to help it all come together." In May of 2014, the couple came to the Starting a Business in Illinois workshop at the Illinois Small Business Development Center. Ian states, "Ross Miller provides a class that nearly step by step walks you through starting your business. He provided us with all the necessary information, all we had to do was the leg work." After the workshop, there were other meetings to clarify specifics for the business. Then Ian and Karen got to work finding a location, which ended up being in their East Bluff neighborhood. Just a block from Glen Oak Park was a building that most recently was a barbeque restaurant. It was small and affordable enough for the Hocker’s to start their business.

Chef and BakerSince opening in the Summer of 2014, The Chef and The Baker have been involved in the community and received favorable press and reviews. They have over 2,100 “likes” on Facebook, a 5 star rating from 128 reviews and on Yelp they have a 4.5 star rating from 34 reviews.

When it was time to hire their first employee, Karen came back to the center to understand the steps and requirements for hiring that first employee. "When we meet, Ross informs me of the next big step that I may need help with and to come in when that time comes, so he can help me through the next step," says Karen.

Ian and Karen plan to continue to grow the business. Ian says, "Our plan of the business is slow progressive growth, one that would provide us and the city of Peoria in a wealth of fresh flavors!" After tasting their food, many agree that The Chef and the Baker are a talented duo that will provide fresh flavors for years to come.

Contact our center with questions about starting, managing, or growing a small business. We provide seminars and meet one-on-one with entrepreneurs. Contact us at (309) 677-2992 or