Take Back Chicago Bakeries

A surge in tech start-ups is bringing excitement to the city’s entrepreneurial scene, and a look at Built in Chicago, an entrepreneurial networking site, gives you a peak at this flurry of activity. These local businesses, like FeeFighters, Dabble, or the soon to launch Duck Duck Dish, or in the virtual world, which is of course historically speaking, quite new. Comparatively though, tangible businesses like a store or a restaurant have greater potential for stability, rather than a potentially fly-by-night mobile app that’s aiming to be the next Facebook.

This brings me to the point of this post: Chicago bakeries. Listen up investors: Bakeries have Picture of faux antique neon signexisted as a business for centuries, and just about everyone loves a fresh baguette or a pretty pastry. And sadly, our beloved Loop is littered with mediocre bakeries with headquarters elsewhere, and it’s getting worse. Crumbs Bake Shop, a transplant from New York, have arrived in the Loop with two locations. And we all know Corner Bakery, right? With its faux antique neon signs and black and white photos of old buildings on walls inside, it likes to give the illusion of being historic to Chicago. Wrong! This Dallas-based chain has nothing to do with Chicago. Magnolia Bakery, again from New York, has arrived at the infamous Block 37, and one can tell from the reviews it’s “bleh.” (As a side note, much of State Street’s real estate is owned by New Yorkers in fact.)

In the whole scheme of downtown Chicago, locally owned bakeries are strikingly absent. Thank heavens we have a few locally owned stars like Sugar Bliss Cupcake Boutique and the new Toni Patisserie. Or you can get lovely (and cheap) locally made treats at the Downtown Farmstand. Bleeding Heart Bakery was to open a location in Block 37, and of course they are holding back until this mall-in-foreclosure begins to have foot traffic. At least we have a couple Intelligentsia locations to supply some baked goods, like flaky croissants and crumbly scones, without that horribly processed chemical taste of a Corner Bakery muffin or a Dunkin donut. Need an example of demand for quality food downtown? Look at the success of Hannah’s Bretzel. Or another example of home-grown treats gone wild? Try the Doughnut Vault in River North. (Another side note: While my Chicago tour company does give walking tours, I am no stranger to this world of the food scene. And yes, we do have a food tour in the works.)

With the current economic climate, shouldn’t investors be interested in businesses that may not explode in 25x returns the first year, but perhaps offer slow-but-steady financial growth? Wouldn’t an investment in such a business be much more secure? If I’ve got your attention, here are some small bakeries and treat-makers with big taste: Lucila’s Aljfares, Bleeding Heart, Puffs of Doom, La Boulangerie, Sweet Mandy B’s, Rich Chocolates and Candies or Hoosier Mama Pie. No wonder that when food trucks like Flirty Cupcakes or Sweet Ride Chicago arrives on a street corner office workers are inspired to make a radical change in their workday by buying a homegrown treat.

— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director

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