PORTAGE PARK — A Ravenswood vegan bakery is bringing its treats to Portage Park, reawakening the former storefront of Little Lulu’s Italian Ice.
Mindful Baking will move into the space at 5035 W. Montrose Ave., which has been empty since the Italian ice shop closed in September. It will be the bakery’s first retail shop after seven years in business. Owner Diane Mejia started the bakery from her home and long has operated out of a wholesale kitchen in Ravenswood.
The Mindful Baking cafe will sell gluten-free and vegan pastries such as brownies, muffins, flax bread and more, as well as drinks made with coffee from Reprise Coffee in Evanston. It will also sell Italian ice from Little Lulu’s, a deal Mindful Baking owner Diane Mejia said will keep the popular cold treats in Chicago while allowing her to expand her business.
“The space is great, and I feel like it will be a good addition to the neighborhood,” Mejia said. “I don’t know what to expect, but it will be worth it.”
Mejia launched Mindful Baking after being diagnosed with severe gluten intolerance. She makes decadent vegan cakes, donuts, muffins, pies and more, and she sells her products at various farmers markets. But she’s long wanted to take her business to the next level and open her doors to the community.
“We get seven people a day asking to come in, [but] we have no retail presence,” she said.
With minimal vegan and cafe options in Portage Park, Mejia is excited to bring “fresh and funky” vibes to the neighborhood.
Mejia plans to open in the beginning of December, but she wants help from the community to pay for equipment — like a refrigerator and a cappuccino makers — for the newly remodeled cafe. She is going to launch a Kickstarter campaign soon, and she hopes the extra money will help cover rent until the cafe opens.
It’s a risk moving into retail, Mejia said, but she hopes it is well-received. If so, she may consider opening a second Mindful Baking spot.
When Little Lulu’s owner Autumn Bastyr closed her shop — partly due to the pandemic and because she moved to Florida to expand the brand — she had hoped an entrepreneur would take over the space and keep her products in the neighborhood.
The partnership between Mindful Baking and her business, which also sells vegan and gluten-free products, is a win-win situation.
“This relieves some stress on me, [and] we can feed off of each other’s customer base,” Bastyr said.
Bastyr said she’s excited to share the space with a fellow entrepreneur who is equally invested in growing a business.
Mejia “has just as much passion and dedication as I do. Two women small business owners working together is very exciting,” Bastyr said. “We are doing this to help uplift each other and get that snowball bigger so there is more momentum behind both of our brands. The neighborhood is missing those baked goods. Hopefully, it’s all up from here.”
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