AVONDALE — An all-day cafe and bakery from husband-and-wife chefs who’ve worked for some of Chicago’s buzziest restaurants is coming to a growing stretch of Avondale’s Milwaukee Avenue.
Pastry chef Sarah Mispagel — whose resume includes acclaimed spots mk, Nightwood and Sepia — and Ben Lustbader, a former Lula Cafe and Nightwood chef who helped open Giant and Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar, two of Logan Square’s hottest restaurants, are opening Loaf Lounge at 2934 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The “bread-centric” neighborhood cafe will serve freshly baked pastries and bread, sandwiches, soups, salads and drinks, including coffee from Logan Square’s Four Letter Word. There will be beer, wine and batched cocktails at night.
Lustbader said they want Loaf Lounge to be a comfortable spot where neighbors feel welcome any time of day, whether they’re on the way to work or meeting up with friends for brunch or a beer. They aim to open the neighborhood spot this summer.
“We want the neighborhood to come in and feel stoked to be there … hopefully we’re that, plus the best croissant you’ve ever had,” he said.
Mispagel and Lustbader are opening the restaurant after about a year of doing pop-ups around town.
When the pandemic upended the restaurant industry, the two starting selling bread, pastries and breakfast sandwiches out of friends’ restaurants under the Loaf Lounge moniker. Logan Square restaurant Superkhana International took them in for months.
“Bakeries did really well during the pandemic; fast casual [did], too. So we realized that this is a thing we wanted to do for as long as we can remember. Even if life stays the way it was at the end of 2020, we’re working with a model we thought would be appropriate for that,” Mispagel said.
The Loaf Lounge restaurant will have the same focus as the pop-up: sandwiches made with seasonal ingredients and “crusty” bread, like roast beef on caramelized onion and gruyere bread, Mispagel and Lustbader said.
The restaurant will also serve an array of pastries made by Mispagel, along with individual loaves of bread at the counter.
As the name suggests, all of the bread at Loaf Lounge will be made in house; Mispagel said often they let the bread dictate sandwich ingredients, and not the other way around.
“Sometimes it’s like we build this crazy good bread, and it’s like, ‘What does the bread want?'” she said.
Lustbader said “the goal is to have a small but solid core menu” that leaves room for specials.
Though Mispagel and Lustbader have worked in the restaurant industry for years in Chicago and other cities, Loaf Lounge is their first restaurant together.
It’s a personal endeavor for the chefs, who have been talking about blending their culinary talents and opening a restaurant since before they were dating, when they met working for now-closed Pilsen restaurant Nightwood several years ago.
“Ben would ask questions getting to know me. One day before service, he was like, ‘What’s your end goal? Do you want to open a place? Do you want to be a chocolate rep?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, I’m feeling it out,’ a wishy washy answer. And I was like, ‘What do you want to do?’ Ben was like, ‘I want to open a sandwich shop. Do you want to work there?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure!'” Mispagel said.
Now married, and with years of experience working for lauded restaurants, Mispagel and Lustbader said it’s surreal they’re actually following through on those plans.
“I’m really excited about it. But when you think about something for so long and it actually happens, you kinda don’t think it’s real,” Mispagel said.
Loaf Lounge is the latest spot to open on Avondale’s Milwaukee Avenue, which is seeing a resurgence after years of struggling to attract businesses. Last month, New York City bar Mother’s Ruin opened at 2943 N. Milwaukee Ave. and horror-themed coffee shop The Brewed, from the owners of Bric-A-Brac Records, opened at 2843 N. Milwaukee Ave. Central Park Bar opened at 2924 N. Central Park Ave. this fall.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: