PORTAGE PARK — Little Lulu’s Italian Ice is back.
The business at 5035 W. Montrose Ave. closed in the fall and reopened as it faced a variety of barriers, including fruit shortages, problems from the pandemic and financial constraints. Then, Little Lulu’s had to close again for several months, but it reopened at the end of May.
Little Lulu’s owner Autumn Bastyr found a new partner to help with the reopening: Celina Hernandez, a nutrition and fitness entrepreneur and independent distributor for Herbalife Nutrition.
“We are working as a team,” Bastyr said. “There is no better time than now to [partner together]. Her brand aligns with Lulu’s.”
The duo rebranded the store as Little Lulu’s Nutrition, offering Bastyr’s signature Italian ice flavors as well as acai bowls, protein and probiotic shakes, waffles, crepes, protein-based oatmeal and more. The brand focuses on healthy snacks and caters to people working out or who are into fitness, Bastyr said.
Hernandez used to work at Sleek and Beauty nutrition bar at 5713 W. Irving Park Road and was inspired to start her own business. She said Bastyr’s pitch to collaborate was an ideal opportunity.
“It woud have been dumb to say no,” Hernandez said. “It was an opportunity to try this out.”
With the partnership, Hernandez hopes to bring more nutrition-focused foods to the Far Northwest Side and make it easier for people to eat healthy and get their vitamins, she said.
In 2016, Herbalife was fined $200 million by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive business practices. The company has since restructured its business, according to the commission.
Andrea Mariani, director of operations for Little Lulu’s, makes the Italian ice and manages the nutrition bar alongside Hernandez. Since opening last month, the business has seen success from neighbors eager to get refreshments during the hot weather and happy to have Little Lulu’s ice back, Mariani and Hernandez said.
They plan to grow the brand into the neighboring store for an “all-women’s gym where women are confident and comfortable to spark women empowerment,” Mariani said.
Bastyr, who moved to Florida last year to expand Little Lulu’s and operate in a warmer climate, has been busy creating partnerships in Chicago and beyond to grow the Italian ice brand.
Little Lulu’s Italian ice is also sold at Chicago Taco Authority in Irving Park, Reggie’s on the Beach on the Near South Side and will soon be at Mima’s Taste Of Cuba in Irving Park. A partnership with a South Side bakery also is a possibility, Bastyr said.
Bastyr said she looks forward to growing the partnership locally, reaching new clients with both products and making the cafe a healthy hub for the community.
“We are three people coexisting in the space and promoting each other’s businesses and making it an awesome place to go in the neighborhood,” she said.
Little Lulu’s Nutrition is open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays, 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon-7 p.m. weekends.
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