The Local Look: Mac & Cheese Productions
For Saya Hillman, getting fired was “the best thing that’s ever happened.” It pushed her, after all, to go the entrepreneurial route, and today, she owns Mac & Cheese Productions, a unique mix of weekend getaways, workshops, classes and more that all add up to the “summer-camp” experience, for adults. We talked to Hillman about what it means to live a “life of yes,” why Chicago is one of the most supportive cities and where you should be ordering pizza from tonight.
Why did you choose Chicago?
I grew up in Evanston and couldn’t wait to spread my wings, so I ended up in Boston for college. As often happens when you have some distance between you, being away made me fiercely appreciative of Chicago. It was a no-brainer that I’d move back.
It made sense to attempt a go at entrepreneurism in a place where I already had a network. I had spent my 9 to 5 years traveling many paths to meet people. It was a slow and sometimes painful process—speed dating, anyone?—but eventually the full calendars and the forcing myself to go solo to events paid off.
Chicago made a very scary leap much less so. Because Chicagoans spread the word, I haven’t had to do any marketing in my 12 years. Friendly and supportive on so many levels, Chicagoans know how to make a girl feel loved (and ensure her success)!
If you could go back in time before you became involved in running the business and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?
I’d come up with a good digital organization system and stick with it! I wish I made different choices when creating expense categories for accounting, notebook tags in Evernote (my digital filing cabinet), where and how I store photos (all in one place instead of scattered across services) and how I track contents on my backup devices (an “as I go” table of contents would have saved me a lot of time).
What are your next steps?
For years, people all over the world have been asking me about bringing Mac & Cheese to their city, either because they want to participate or because they want to offer it. While I’ve crossed state lines, so to speak, on a few occasions, I’d like to try one of my bigger offerings elsewhere and/or finally say yes to Saya-London, Saya-New York, Saya-San Francisco. I also want to finish my book ; its working title is Embrace Your Suckage: A Memoir of Not Fitting In and That Being the Best Thing Ever. Lastly, I’d like more collaboration with my husband, who specializes in Workplace Improv and Improv for Non-Improvisers. We already work together on a few projects—Idea Potluck, Fear Experiment℠, Life of Yes℠ Sleepaway Camp—and because of our success there, I’m ready to create more with my best friend.
We want to be in the know! Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
As a lover of efficiency and good food, the fact that you can call your eat-in pizza order at Pequod’s ahead of time so that it’s ready when you arrive is heavenly. P.S., the Map Room is a coffeehouse during the day! P.P.S, if traffic is bad or you just want a quieter route, Leavitt (Diversey to Montrose) and Loomis (Kinzie to past 55th) are great side street alternatives!
Q&As are edited for clarity and length.