Four days before her 13th birthday, Mila Krol arrived in St. Louis Park, a new immigrant from the former Soviet Union. Now, 27 years and a life of worldly travel later, Krol owns a local paint-n-sip studio, where she caters to locals looking for a good time or a way to de-stress. So, Who the Folk?! is Mila Krol?
You moved here in 1990 from the former Soviet Union at 12. What was it like to transplant into SLP as a new immigrant?
It was very daunting and intimidating. We lived in an apartment building on the ground level. I remember standing in my apartment looking out the window onto houses and trees and wondering where all the skyscrapers were. At school, because I didn’t speak any English, I started in ESL (English as a Second Language), and so making friends was difficult. Understanding the social structures on top of the learning was very difficult. Everything was new. I didn’t know how to take the bus or where to take the bus or how to get off the bus. I started in 7th grade in St. Louis Park. I found friends in ESL and we kind of banded together and navigated the school. It was not just Jewish kids, it was Vietnamese kids and Latin American kids and kids from all over the world that we became friends with. It was sort of a safe haven in the class. I’m still friends with most of the Russian-Jewish kids. We’ve kind of gone through life together.
What did you do after graduating high school?
I decided to take a break from learning a little bit and I started working. One of my first jobs was at an accounting firm here in the Twin Cities. Then, I decided I wanted to experience the world so I sold everything I owned and backpacked through Europe. I went back to Minsk, and a bunch of places in Europe and Israel. I later got married and moved to Chicago, where I got my degree in sociology, and after a while I dragged my husband back here because I really loved the Twin Cities. This was my home, this was where my parents were, and so I felt like not only is it the connection to the community, but the city itself called me back.
What incentivized you to open your own paint studio in SLP?
When my mom was turning 60, I wanted to do something special for her birthday, so I found a paint-n-sip experience that we did together. I enjoyed it so much and she enjoyed it so much that that was the moment that really crystallized for me that I really wanted to own a place where people could come and enjoy themselves and celebrate their connections and friendships and special occasions — leave the day-to-day hassle of adulthood with kids and parents and work and stress outside the door. I wanted to open my own paint-n-sip studio because it had all the right pieces. It had the part where I could host, the part with the art, the part with the food and the part with wine. It also appealed to women, which I felt was important because I think as women, we really need more places where we can unwind with each other and our significant others. When I toured Excelsior and Grand and saw the place, I just fell in love with it. It’s an upscale area, it goes along with the atmosphere of my studio and it had this sort of serendipitous return to my grassroots.
Do you have a background in art?
No, but I enjoy painting and I enjoy doodling, and what I liked about it is they appeal to an everyday person like myself. You don’t have to be an artist or have a background in art to enjoy this. It’s sort of a coming back to when we were kids doing art and there was no such a thing as “I’m an artist.” It was just letting go and being creative.
Who does the studio cater to?
People that are going through hardships are part of my clientele. It’s also people who are celebrating and reconnecting. For example, a mother who was terminally ill with brain cancer was one of my first customers. She purchased a ticket and brought family in and told me that her daughter, who was in her early 20s, had just been diagnosed with brain cancer as well, and that her surgery was going to be the following week and this could potentially be the last time they all see each other. Through sharing that story with us, it came out that the artist who was teaching that class was a childhood cancer survivor. That class was full of hugs and tears. It was a touching experience. I have another story of a man in his 80s who’d come in on a date. He came insecure and said “I haven’t painted since I was a kid,” because one of his art teachers raised his art above everybody else and said to the kids “This is not art,” and pointed to his neighbor’s piece and said “This is art.” So since that time, he has not picked up a brush and engaged in creative activity — until he came into my studio. And he was super proud. Those are the hardships, but we also see so many celebrations — people who are getting married and they don’t want to booze it up in the bars, but they want to do something more creative, a little bit more sophisticated. Lots of wedding showers, bachelorette parties, birthday parties.
What makes a wine-and-paint session a great way to relax or celebrate?
You can tap into what painting offers. It’s very relaxing, very therapeutic, and fun. Some people are intimidated by the idea, because they’ve got it into their heads that they’re not artists or they’re not talented. This is where a glass of wine helps. After having a glass of wine people tend to relax and they let go of their inhibitions a little bit, and it’s easier to start. Once they start, the experience takes them away, and oftentimes, they’re amazed and impressed with their outcome.
How do you connect your experience as a business owner to your own Jewish identity?
It unfortunately starts with experiencing hardship and having to leave my home place of origin simply because I was a Jew in search of a new place. Because I grew up in an Atheist country, the religious aspects of Judaism are hard to connect with. So for me, a Jewish identity is rooted in being a part of a people, a social identity with common food, a common values structure and a common path.
How has the business grown in the (almost) year it has been open?
We’ve seen almost 3,000 people who’ve come and enjoyed themselves in our studio in the last 11 months or so. It’s been a huge personal challenge and learning experience. This is my first business, and I grossly underestimated the amount of time and effort it would take to get the word out, to do the day-to-day tasks and to structure procedures in the proper way. I have a daughter, so it’s been a lot of missed swimming classes and class parties and family events, and some fights with my husband over how I’m no longer available, but overall I think it’s definitely made our family stronger, it’s helped really focus on the important pieces to me, so when I do have free time now I really spend it in the way that is meaningful to me, and that’s being with my family.
So, you climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro three years ago?!
Every year, about the end of the year, my husband and I do something that we call “a big trip,” and one year he just put it out there and said why don’t we do this, and I agreed. So we flew to Africa and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. This was my second climb — my husband has done more — so as far as the physical rigor, I was already prepared. The hard part was the elevation and the lack of oxygen and how cold it was. The descent, the way we went, on the other side it’s pretty steep, and sometimes going down steep hill is harder than going up. I did end up having an ear infection the entire time and had to go into an African hospital to get some antibiotics. Still, it’s very rewarding to be on top of a mountain.
If you’re interested in signing up for a paint-n-sip class, or want to organize a party, check out the Pinot’s Palette website. Classes start at $38/painter for 2 hours of instruction.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!