Mindy Segal always fantasized about being a chef.
When she was a child, long before the Food Network existed, she and her brother managed imaginary restaurants and invented their own television culinary show. They often pretended they had the privilege and honor of cooking for the President of the United States.
Segal may not have made that last fantasy a reality, at least not yet, but her name is one of the most recognizable and established brands in the Illinois cannabis industry: Mindy’s Edibles.
Segal is the author of the best-selling cookbook Cookie Love and has garnered numerous accolades and awards, including the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. She has appeared on The Today Show, The Martha Stewart Show, and The Food Network and has been featured in Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times.
When asked how to best enter the culinary or cannabis industry, Segal had a simple recipe. While she acknowledged she has been fortunate in her career, maybe even lucky, she didn’t sugarcoat what it took to become successful.
“Everyone thinks, like, ‘Oh, it’s Mindy Segal. Mindy Segal. She gets this. She gets that. She gets everything,’” Segal said. “Well, I’ve worked my ass off to get where I am. And I am still working my ass off!”
Segal admitted most people don’t understand her absolute dedication, obsession, and hard work that carried her to this point in her career.
“Obviously, I’m fifty-three years old, so I’m, like, eighty in kitchen years,” she said. “I worked in a lot of kitchens. I’ve met a lot of chefs. I’ve been to a lot of events. I’ve seen a lot of bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. And at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you work on your craft and you bring people joy.”
Segal’s career obligations follow her twenty-four seven. When cannabis cultivator Cresco Labs, a vertically integrated cannabis company based in Chicago, needs her for anything pertaining to Mindy’s Edibles, she is on call. Always. And she is proud and happy to be available.
“I’m available because I’m in the industry,” she said, “because I want to be a leader in the industry . . . I’m more than happy to help anybody, but it’s just that you got to understand the sacrifices and what it takes to be in this industry. It’s hard, like anything. You don’t rise to the top in two days.”
During all stages of her career, Segal has treated each of her jobs as if she were the proprietor of the business.
“You have to pretend to own a business to then own a business,” she said. “You can’t have the attitude that, ‘Well, it’s not my business. It’s not mine. It’s not my job.’ You have to be able to be the best in the room.”
Segal describes her career now as entering its third phase. The first phase began with education and entering the industry. The second dealt with honing her craft and business skills. The third phase of her career? Doing what brings her joy: baking pastries.
The first phase of Segal’s career began at Kendall College in 1987. She always had a “knack or infinity for cooking’ and knew she wanted to be a chef, but when she first started, she didn’t know exactly what that meant. The plan was to go to college for four years, get her degree, and then go to culinary school.
One day while walking to school, she saw a bus that said Chicago on it, and instead of attending class, she hopped on the bus and headed home.
“My parents were, like, ‘What are you doing here,’ and I’m, like, “I’m going to go to culinary school. I’m going to drop out of college.’”
In the late 80s, culinary schools did not often accept students without some working experience, so Segal worked for a year for a catering company.
“That’s when I knew—when I was doing it full-time—that I knew it was right for me,” she said. “And I knew that I would walk into that kitchen, and I would either love it or hate it. And I loved it from the first step. I love it!”
Fortunately, as Segal bettered her craft, her parents were very supportive and enabled her to pursue more opportunities in the industry. So she started her own business. In the first days of her career, though, she was still learning how to do just that.
“I became my own boss earlier on in my career,” Segal said. “I was in my twenties. It was probably too soon, but because of that, I had to teach myself everything. Everything. Teach, teach, teach. Learn. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes, nervous breakdown. Hard work, hard work, hard work. Pushing, pushing, pushing. Changing, changing, changing.”
With her determined forward push, Segal was able to parlay owning a business into accepting better jobs within the industry. She accepted a position as the pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s, and though she hated the working environment, the experience taught her a lot about finding her voice as a baker and future boss. She also credited mentors Judy Contino and Michael Kornick as chefs who were supportive and taught her about pastries, fighting for what she wanted, and getting it.
Segal eventually accepted a position at MK Restaurant, where she established herself as, in her words, a “pretty good pastry chef.”
She remained at MK for six years, but what she really wanted was to step into the next phase of her career.
In 2005, Segal opened Mindy’s HotChocolate Restaurant in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, which set the foundation for her second career phase.
HotChocolate garnered rave reviews and helped establish Segal as one of the top pastry chefs not only in Illinois but also the country. Segal again emphasized that these accolades did not magically appear overnight. In the early years, she was not showered with awards. Instead, Segal focused her energy on operating HotChocolate and, most importantly, honing her craft.
She attributed her success to a persistent day-by-day grind of working hard, improving, and focusing on pleasing her customers.
In 2012, Segal earned one of the most prestigious awards in the industry, the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. But, again, it didn’t happen overnight. Segal was nominated five times before finally winning.
“I was nominated six times for an award that was based on what your peers think of you,” she said, “and basically, if you’re nominated and win, you’re good. If you don’t, you’re shit.”
Although she was extremely honored and thankful for how the award boosted her career, Segal tried to stay laser focused on the actions that had earned the award: hard work, dedication, and bettering her craft.
“It’s just a plaque on the wall,” she said. “If I can’t make a chocolate chip cookie, and I can’t make people happy, and I can’t fill the seats in business, what does it mean? Means nothing.”
She has experienced firsthand how chefs’ motivations can stray from bettering their craft to thirsting for a Beard Award nomination or a Michelin star. Multiple times, she has had people contact her and ask how they “get to win” a Beard Award.
“And my response is,” Segal said, “‘By working hard and being in your restaurant.’”
When she won the Beard Award, Segal didn’t fly out to New York for the ceremony. She was managing her restaurant when they announced the winners.
“It was great because I got to celebrate it with my staff,” she said. “I got to go to a busy bar in Chicago and do shots with the entire bar to celebrate Chicago-style!”
Winning the Beard Award did open a lot of professional doors, but Segal’s mindset was not to focus on garnering more accolades or awards. Her attitude was to stay focused on improving her craft and business.
“I used to always say to myself, ‘Well, you have to work harder now because someone says you were good,’” Segal said. “‘Now you have to prove it.’”
In 2015, Segal branched out into the publishing industry. That spring, she and co-author Kate Leahy launched the cookbook Cookie Love: 60 Recipes and Techniques for Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary.
In 2016, Segal expanded her brand into the newest of Illinois industries. She partnered with Cresco Labs to create Mindy’s Edibles, which has developed into one of the most recognizable cannabis brands in Illinois and beyond.
After four more years of operating HotChocolate and Mindy’s Edibles brand, and as part of her overall career strategy, Segal decided the time was right to make another move.
Segal had intended to close HotChocolate after fifteen years, on May 31, 2020. Then the pandemic hit, so instead she shut the doors in mid-March.
By trade, Segal is a pastry chef. After owning a restaurant for fifteen years, she decided to focus on the aspect of her trade that brought her the most joy: baking.
Along with continuing the Mindy’s Edibles brand, Segal launched the third phase of her career by opening Mindy’s Bakery.
“I was always planning, working on my craft, seeing what we were going to sell, seeing how things were going to look, and what the menu was going to look like,” Segal said. “So on the third week in March, I decided to open my doors and started selling my bagels and pastries. And we’ve grown it.”
Mindy’s Bakery is currently operating out of the former HotChocolate building but will soon move to a new brick and mortar in the Bucktown/Wicker Park area. The menu changes frequently based on seasonality and availability. It currently includes bagels, bialy, cake, coffee cake, babka, challah, cookies, mac & cheese, and quiche. The bakery opens at 8 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and closes when menu items are sold out.
Segal is still, as she puts it, “working my ass off,” and though nothing is guaranteed in the culinary industry, the third phase of her career appears to be continuing with great success.
At this point in her career, Segal understands that chasing awards and accolades are not going to make her more successful.
“Something clicks in your brain, and you realize it doesn’t fucking matter what people think of you or what people say,” Segal said. “It only matters what you think.”
Though Segal believes it’s important to be able adapt in any business, she is perfectly content to remain in her third career phase for now. But who knows? Perhaps one day she will live out another of her childhood fantasies and be the personal chef for the President of the Unites States.