LOGAN SQUARE — When Sugar Moon Bakery opened on Wrightwood Avenue in early September, there was a line down the block of neighbors anxious to try owner Dina Cimarusti’s rustic baked goods.
Three months later, excitement around the unassuming Logan Square bakery hasn’t waned.
Sugar Moon Bakery, 3612 W. Wrightwood Ave., sells out every day, sometimes hours before closing. Cimarusti is working no less than 12 hours a day to keep up with the high demand; she even set up a cot near the kitchen so she can rest without leaving the bakery.
Bakery sales are double what Cimarusti expected. Right now, Cimarusti only has one employee, but if business continue at this rate, she’ll have to hire more help.
“It’s been really crazy,” Cimarusti said. “Everyone in the neighborhood is so supportive. … I gotta say, I’ve been in the industry for a long time and customers are usually a–holes, but … every [customer here] is just the most pleasant human I’ve ever met.”
Sugar Moon Bakery is situated on a quiet but blossoming stretch of Wrightwood Avenue. The bakery is small at 700 square feet, and it has just a counter, pastry cases and locally made art on the walls. The kitchen takes up most of the space.
Cimarusti named the business Sugar Moon Bakery after the first full moon before spring.
“They call it the sugar moon because it’s when trees start leaking sap that’s made for maple syrup. … I was like, that’s adorable. I love it,” she said.
In just a few months, Sugar Moon has become Chicago’s go-to spot for savory breakfast pastries. Cimarusti’s creations — everything from roasted poblano pepper and garlic cheddar scones to brioche buns with egg, red pesto, feta and za’atar — are flying out the door. Neighbors, people from across the city and even out-of-towners show up daily in the hopes of snagging pastries before they sell out.
Cimarusti’s sweet treats are equally as sought after. Tribune food critic Nick Kindelsperger declared her tahini chocolate chip cookie one of the best chocolate chip cookies in the city. But Cimarusti makes a range of popular desserts with unique flavor profiles, such as vegan chai spiced walnut chocolate chip cookies and pecan chai spiced rolls.
After years of working as a pastry chef in other kitchens, including at Alliance Bakery in Wicker Park, Cimarusti wanted to focus on the kinds of pastries she likes to eat — imperfect and packed with flavor.
“For years, I have been making all of these perfect wedding cakes that are flawless and whatever. But that’s not the kind of pastry I’m into,” she said. “I really like rustic comfort food. … I just love going to a small-town bakery. They don’t give a f—k what it looks like. It’s just super messy and oozing fruit and icing. I’m just like, ‘Oh, I love that.'”
Sugar Moon Bakery is a dream realized for Cimarusti, who has baked — and cooked — since she was a kid.
Growing up near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Cimarusti made banana crepes, bread pudding and other desserts using recipes she discovered watching cooking shows with her dad. She also cooked savory dishes like pasta, drawing inspiration from her Italian grandmothers, she said.
As she got older, Cimarusti worked in restaurants and fell in love with the fast-paced kitchen environment. But after high school, she wasn’t sure whether to pursue baking or art, another one of her passions. She ultimately went with baking and earned a culinary arts degree from Harper College. While in school, she took up cake decorating to combine her two passions.
Cimarusti’s first job out of college was at the Rosemont Convention Center, now known as the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. She baked all of the cakes and pastries for the convention center’s corporate events, a job that quickly turned grueling, she said.
“I didn’t know anything about the industry. I was working insane hours — I would get there at 3 or 4 in the morning and be there until 9 o’clock at night,” she said. “I was doing pastries for all of the meetings that they were having — like big corporate meetings where I’d have to make 1,000 danishes, 1,000 muffins or 1,000 cookies and also supply cake slices and desserts for the cafeteria. … I just never left.”
Burnt out, Cimarusti left the convention center for another pastry cook job at Alliance Bakery in Wicker Park. At Alliance, she helped make about 20 sculpted wedding cakes a week for six years as a full-timer and then for two additional years as a part-timer.
“It was super stressful in a different way, where sometimes they would send a wedding cakes back to us because there was a crack in the buttercream. … There were always disasters like that. And I would have to get called back into work,” she said.
Cimarusti’s career took a sharp turn after Alliance.
In search a new hobby, Cimarusti started taking special effects classes, which turned into an appearance on “Face Off,” a special effects makeup reality show on the Syfy Channel. Cimarusti won Season 7 in 2014, which led to five years doing special effects for local productions, including “Chicago Med,” while working as the the pastry chef at Hexe Coffee Co. in Lincoln Park.
All along, Cimarusti had her sights set on opening her own bakery, a quaint neighborhood spot where she could put her baking skills to use and call the shots.
Sugar Moon came into focus last year when a former day care on Wrightwood Avenue went up for rent. Cimarusti moved in, thinking it would take six months to open. But the city permitting process — and the pandemic — significantly delayed the project, she said.
When Cimarusti finally opened Sugar Moon in September, business took off immediately. Whether through word-of-mouth or news articles, neighbors flocked to the bakery for Cimarusti’s treats — and the rush hasn’t let up. Sugar Moon closes at 3 p.m., but most days the bakery is sold out of everything by 11 a.m. or noon.
Still, the immediate success doesn’t change much for Cimarusti. She said she might be forced to hire another pastry cook, but she doesn’t plan to expand or do anything differently. While she greatly appreciates the support, she hopes the hype subsides a bit so she can get home at a reasonable hour.
“I just want to bake for the neighbors and be a neighborhood bakery. But I don’t know if it’s too late for that,” she said with a laugh.
Sugar Moon Bakery is open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday-Saturday or until goods sell out.
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