A native of Chicago, Antonia Poland has always been a city girl and a hard worker. In fact, she began working at McDonald's at age 13. “I wanted to work so badly. I have always wanted to work. Before I started earning money, I volunteered at a summer camp – I just couldn’t wait to get started,” she says.
Antonia’s motivation to work was to be around people but also to earn money to take a Walt Disney trip. It was instilled in her at an early age that in order to go after your dreams you had to put yourself out there and make it happen.
Antonia played a lot of organized team sports as a child such as floor hockey and volleyball. Her interests were wide as she took jazz, tap and ballet.
“I wanted to be a doctor and I still have a passion and interest in medicine and science, but I knew it would take too much time trying to raise children and go to medical school,” Antonia admits.
While interning at IBM, Antonia decided to interview for a job with the corporation but, with thousands of people there, she did not expect to be the one hired. She was unaware when she spoke to Wayne George that he was one of the vice presidents of the company. “When I was hired, I wondered where all of the other people who were hired were and they told me I was the only one they had hired out of all those people that day,” Antonia says.
That was enough to give her confidence to keep going for her dreams and to move forward. “I learned that I did not like corporate America. I like being around people and I felt too confined,” she confesses.
Not one to be held back, Antonia’s tenacity and determination pushed her as she attended college at UIC while holding two jobs. She also was raising a family.
At 19, Antonia had her oldest son Stennis on her birthday. Then there were two other children, Makya and Michael (A.J.).
Living in the city of Chicago most of her life, she tried raising her kids with a little less city life and lived in Valparaiso, Ind., for a while. “The city was confining; my children couldn’t ride their bikes, they couldn’t go out and walk - it was a different environment,” she insists.
Antonia was a licensed realtor and she also spent some time as a kitchen designer for Home Depot and later worked as the inventory manager of eight departments there. She eventually moved back to Chicago.
“I think everything I have done has helped toward giving me a thorough knowledge in running a business today,” she says.
Though she was married for some years, Antonia had always been self-sufficient and headstrong.
She had visited Chattanooga twice before and recalls during her last visit looking up at the Ridge Cut and thinking, “I could live here”. A few years after her divorce and contemplating a new business idea, Antonia did make the move.
With no family or friends in Chattanooga, it would be another leap of faith to take on something new without having support surrounding her. For about a year, Antonia came to Chattanooga a few times to make sure she wanted to live here as she sought out forming her own business, called Dipped Fresh.
“I just prayed about it. I had done research on other places but this was the place I wanted to live. It felt safer and familyoriented. There were more outdoor activities available and my kids could be a part of that,” Antonia asserts.
Headed toward that vision; she loaded up her car and a trailer for the move to Chattanooga, only to have a wreck just as she started her journey. “People advised going to the hospital, but I didn’t let anything stop me. I kept going until I got here!” Antonia laughs.
“The difference in Chicago’s city life and Chattanooga’s is that you don’t see a lot of people running around or getting involved like you do here in Chattanooga,” she says.
The idea for Dipped Fresh came about when Antonia was still in Chicago and working in real estate. “Someone had sent me some chocolate covered strawberries in the mail and they were not good,” she laughs. “They were pretty but, oh no – I could do better!”
She had tried her hand at making them, along with truffles and cakes while still in Chicago.
“I started taking them to parties and one day my daughter said, ‘Mama you could sell this!’ and on Valentine’s Day last year I went out on the streets and gave out samples. For everyone I gave a sample I got an order or two. I made 3,000.00 in one day! At the time I was taking the orders, I did not realize that I was gonna have to dip all those strawberries!” Antonia laughs. “I was just thinking of selling but it was a lot of work. So much work, I couldn’t even lift my arm up for two weeks.”
But it showed her that she could do it. People had tasted her product and they wanted it.
“It was not hard to sell. I still have people from Chicago that ask if I do shipping and ask if I would ship them there, but that is exactly why I got into this business because of how they tasted after shipping - I wanted fresh!” Antonia insists.
Partnering with Cynthia Wood, whom Antonia met online through a book Cynthia had published, the duo has made Dipped Fresh a hit with Chattanooga.
“We offer all different types of foods dipped in chocolate - even bacon. But we specialize in strawberries,” the entrepreneur says.
Another favorite for many Chattanoogans’ is the chocolate dipped cheesecakes and chocolate dipped red velvet cakes.
Antonia will not reveal what chocolate she uses to flavor the specialty items but a crucial formula to success is in being fresh. “We wanted to use local farmers’ strawberries but they were not large enough. That was the first place we tried. I wanted to use local items when we can and we do use a lot of gluten free products,” she says.
“Bacon wasn’t my idea but I had never tasted it before so I tried it and started making it. I have thought of other things dipped in chocolate - grapes, apples and I have come up with a specialty ice cream bar,” Antonia says.
Having their mother’s desire to work and earn income, Antonia’s kids help out at the business on Saturday or when they are on break from school.
Antonia would like to open a couple of other locations and is toying with the idea of a restaurant with ‘Chicago-style’ food. “I have not found the type of food like I am used to in Chicago – like healthy soul food where it is healthy but still tastes good. Barbecue ribs don’t taste like what I am used to at all. I want to bring the flavors of Chicago to Chattanooga,” she voices.
“Chattanooga does have many high-end restaurants but you can spend $100 easily. I am interested in affordable. We make organic sandwiches that are fresh and delicious, using Boarshead meats, bread from Bluff View and using the best products - but I don’t charge a lot. I want to keep it reasonable, says Antonia.
Being insightful may be what it takes to begin a business but to begin in a whole new place is not only risky but takes courage and hard work.
“I had to get out and talk to people and do so much foot work! I even had to attend ‘happy hour’ just to get to know the place and the people - and I don’t even drink!” she laughs.
“I would drink water and people around would say ‘her next water is on me’,” she muses. “Just getting out there and meeting people until they say ‘okay, I can help you’ is what you have to do. And, that’s what I like about Chattanooga. People will help you,” Antonia says.
“If you have a dream or vision to do something; they will help you and that is one of the reasons I came here – people are so nice.”
Dipped Fresh caters for local events and weddings. Stop by River Street by Coolidge Park or visit their website at: www.DippedFresh.com