The Next List: Nina Makovski
Updated: Dec 31, 2019
After 20 years as a television showrunner and content creator in California where she produced shows for networks including HGTV, Food Network, The Cooking Channel, DIY, FYI, MTV, OWN and BRAVO, Nina Makovski pivoted from production to playspaces when she returned home to Chicago.
As a mother of a young daughter (and keeping in mind Chicago winters), Nina recognized a gap in the market for a stylish, creative indoor playspace both kids and adults could appreciate. Together with her husband Paul, Nina created Waterlemon - indoor play space, retail boutique and party venue in La Grange, IL with a clean, modern California aesthetic. Recently named in Chicago Magazine’s Best Of issue, Waterlemon has also been featured on WGN’s Around Town with Ana Belaval and on Fox’s Morning News as well as the Chicago Tribune, The Suburban Life, Chicago Parent Magazine and countless blogs since opening its doors in January of 2019.
As if launching a new business this year wasn't enough, she continues to produce as well as develop & pitch new programming to various networks as her schedule allows. I know you will enjoy hearing from this creative, multi-talented entrepreneur!
What has your career path been like up to this point?
A lot of fun! My first job was as a production assistant for an HGTV show here in Chicago. I had studied television in school and was so thrilled to have gotten a “real job” in the business while still working toward my degree. Over the years I climbed the ladder, hitting every wrung along the way, until ultimately became a showrunner. I’ve run shows for HGTV, Food Network, DIY, FYI, Bravo and produced for MTV, OWN and many others. When I had my daughter and we moved back to Chicago to raise her, I pumped the brakes a bit while we settled in. It was around that time that our 2nd baby, Waterlemon, was “born”. We actually had the idea to open an indoor play space while living in LA. There were a few in our neighborhood which we frequented with my nephew, Jack, and we just thought they were so fun and such a nice alternative to big play zones. When we moved to Chicago, we realized there was a great lack of options in this department – at least in the suburbs. We were perpetually hunting for a play space that felt intimate, clean, stylish and engaging for our at the time, 8-month-old daughter. Being able to get a great cup of coffee and maybe do a little shopping whilst visiting a play space would have been an added bonus. When we couldn’t find anything that quite fit that description, we decided to take the plunge and build it ourselves. And we’re so happy we did!
How did you know it was time for a change? Was there a defining moment that sparked you into action?
My daughter was a big catalyst for the change. The entertainment industry can sometimes be quite taxing on a family with lots of travel and long hours. Don’t get me wrong, so can business ownership! But it’s a bit more controllable when you’re your own boss. I think in terms of what sparked us into action it was knowing we could do something that would have big impact on our community. We love knowing we’re a place where children and their families and friends are making memories. That’s one of the best parts of this job.
Where did you find support and inspiration?
We felt supported every step of the way by our friends and family. At first, many of them couldn’t quite wrap their heads around what exactly it was we were trying to do since it’s a bit of a new concept. How exactly it was all going to work was a question we got a LOT at first, but we just told everyone to have faith and trust us and they did! In terms of inspiration, again, Vivian, but also all of the other littles running around the Chicagoland area looking for something fun to do! In terms of the aesthetic inspiration, California was a big one. We designed Waterlemon to be bright, light and inviting and with lots of boxwood hedges throughout. Like you’d see in shops and restaurants around LA. You don’t know it’s 30 degrees outside when you’re here because everything is so green! We also knew this kind of neutral aesthetic would appeal to adults too, as it’s so different from other children’s venues which tend to be wildly colorful. We wanted Waterlemon to be a place that adults enjoyed hanging out in as much as children did.
How did motherhood play a role in your career path?
Vivian was a game changer – kids always are! Priorities shift, plans change and paths twist down new avenues. If you would have told me 10 years ago when I was living in Los Angeles and interviewing a new celebrity every day, that one day I’d be running an indoor playspace in the burbs of Chicago, I’d have laughed and told you that you had the wrong girl. But here I am! Life is funny like that. I started earning a paycheck at 16-years-old and haven’t stopped working since. A strong work ethic, drive and responsibility was instilled in me from the time I was a kid: work hard, make your own way, be self-sufficient. I plan to raise my daughter the same way. I want her to be proud of her mom (and dad!) and to feel inspired by us throughout her entire life. She has been such an integral part of the Waterlemon business start-up. You wouldn’t think it but she has! We consult with her on everything: clothes we bring in, toys we offer, snacks we serve, everything! She loves being part of the process. I also love that she can come and see me at work anytime she wants. Even if it’s a brief 5 minute visit, it makes both our days. I feel very lucky to have that capability.
What was your biggest challenge in changing direction or starting something new?
Starting a new business is rife with all kinds of challenges: financial, time management, concept follow-through, ramp up, systems, etc. But I think the biggest challenge of all was just wrapping our heads around the fact that we committed to this and we needed it to not just work but to be successful. Paul and I both believe that success comes from giving 100% of yourself to the cause. We knew that would mean a lot of sacrifices, fewer date nights, less sleep, no more long weekends away, at least not for a while. But we believe in this businesses' future – that’s what keeps us going.
What advice would you give to other women that feel stuck in their current situation?
Change is never easy. I know it sounds trite but it’s so true and sometimes we need to hear it. Don’t think any pivot is ever going to come easy. Always expect to work your tail off and know there are going to be times you’re going to want to throw in the towel. And there may be times that you may need to do just that and that’s OKAY!!! Maybe the finances aren’t there – the support is lacking, the time can’t be carved out. There is no shame in tabling an idea and picking it back up at a later date. I have about 20 ideas brewing at any given point, but I know I can’t take them all on at once. I do what I think I can successfully manage and I don’t feel bad about back-burnering something until the time is right. The other piece of advice I’d give someone thinking about starting a new business is to make sure you surround yourself with the best, smartest, most capable people you can. It makes all the difference in the world when you know you have people you can trust helping you grow your business.
Do you have a favorite quote?
That’s an easy one: “These are the good old days.” My mom has been saying that since we were kids and I used to think it was just a weird thing “old” people said to young people! But it’s so very true – and I remind myself of this all that time. I often find myself physically stopping whatever I might be doing just to take in the moment. It could be making dinner with Paul and Vivian, going apple-picking with our friends and family or just getting a facial. I stop and drink in the moment, I know that sounds so weird and maybe it is but I do it and I love it. Especially when it comes to my time with Vivian. She’s growing too fast and I know I’m going to blink and she’ll be a teenager and I want to be able to look back and say you know what, I was really there for those special, early, formative years and I’m so damn happy I was.
What are you reading, listening to, who are you following?
TRUTH: I haven’t read a book all the way through in a long time. Being a new business owner/operator, mom, wife, and yes, I still do TV (!) there’s very little me time these days. I’ve started probably 10 books over the last 2 years, haven’t finished one yet. But I’m working on changing that. Listening to? Kidz Bop – it’s all we play at Waterlemon! I know every song by heart…
Who am I following? Lots of different accounts/people: other small business owners, TV personalities, local moms, photographers, news accounts, comedians. I don’t spend a ton of time on social but when I do I want it to be spent learning, being inspired and laughing.
What’s NEXT for you?
Waterlemon is heading into its second year of business and we have lots of new things coming down the pike including hosting more events and classes and growing our e-comm business. We’ve learned so much this first year, I’ve actually already started writing what may one day be a book about starting your own business after 40. I think there are a lot of people out there, women and men both, who could avoid a lot of pitfalls and hurdles with a book like that. I’ll continue to take on television jobs as they present themselves and if my schedule allows. I actually have a few concepts I plan to pitch in 2020. On a personal level, I’m hoping to spend 2020 focusing a bit more on myself: getting back to the gym, hanging out with hubby and friends more often, trying out some new recipes and hey, maybe even finishing one of those 10 books.