Sometimes, two halves really do make a whole. As they prepare their dream cafe, bread-centric Loaf Lounge (2934 N. Milwaukee Ave.), for opening day, husband-wife culinary duo Sarah Mispagel and Ben Lustbader join the ranks of peanut butter and jelly, rainy days and movies, and a chilled glass of wine on a summer evening – they are simply better together.
Loaf Lounge, an all-day cafe, sandwich shop and bakery located in Avondale, is set to open its doors later this summer.
What’s On The Menu?
Customers can expect coffee and tea, sandwiches, soups, salads, ice cream, custom-made cakes, plenty of pastries – and, of course, bread loaves – at the new baking-centric cafe. Although currently deep in recipe-testing mode, the duo said a few items are sure to make it on the menu – like bear claws, for instance. “This was one of my mother’s favorite pastries,” Mispagel said. “It’s a danish dough filled with almond cream, topped with royal icing and toasted slivered almonds.”
Early risers can also pair a cup of java, from Logan’s own Four Letter Word (3022 W. Diversey Ave.), with a “breakfast sandwich that features a wonderful black garlic and maple breakfast sausage that Ben makes,” Mispagel said.
BLTs on jalapeño cheddar bread and California-inspired veggie sandwiches will take up regular spots on the menu, as well, along with vegetarian and vegan options. “We intend to have a solid core menu of reliable, crowd-pleasing favorites, and then once we get into a groove, we’ll get creative and highlight some seasonal ingredients through rotating specials,” Mispagel said.
At her uncle’s elaborate dinner parties, Mispagel realized at a young age that dining could be an experience. Originally from San Diego, she moved to Chicago about 12 years ago. Her expertise in pastry landed her jobs at MK, Nightwood and Giant (3209 W. Armitage Ave.). She was working as executive pastry chef at sister restaurants Sepia and Proxi before leaving to open Loaf Lounge.
Lustbader, originally from Pittsburgh, moved to Chicago about 15 years ago. Lustbader began working in kitchens because he was inspired by the remarkable creativity happening in the space, he said. One such source of inspiration was Lula Cafe (2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.), where Lustbader worked after first coming to Chicago.
“Working at Lula was a real breakthrough experience for me,” he said. “There was so much going on. It was bonkers. But it was refreshing and different from anything I had ever seen before, just people actively pursuing ideas.” Lustbader’s resume includes North Pond, Publican Quality Meats and Nightwood, and he helped open restaurants such as Chef’s Special and Giant.
Bakery Skills Plus Business Savvy
Mispagel’s and Lustbader’s paths intersected at Nightwood, where the two worked with and learned from each other.
At that time, Lustbader was developing early plans to open a sandwich shop.
“I always knew that Ben wanted to open a sandwich shop,” said Mispagel. “For a while, that didn’t appeal to me. I was working in fine dining at the time. The idea of us working together sounded cool, but I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in.”
But the longer the two discussed their plans, the more it made sense. Lustbader’s business savvy and culinary talent and Mispagel’s baking prowess lent themselves perfectly to their eventually united dream, the two said.
Two Halves Make A Whole
“Ben’s very organized, thoughtful and intentional,” Mispagel said. “He creates a culture where learning is important. I wouldn’t have opened a place without him. I’m not confident when it comes to the financials, but Ben was very involved with this kind of thing with Giant and Chef’s Special.”
“And in return,” Lustbader said, with a laugh, “the entire business hinges on her being excellent at pastries, while I just put some things in between the things that she bakes.”
A Pandemic-Born Pop-Up
Chicagoans have had the opportunity to try Loaf Lounge products previously at the couple’s Superkhana International (3059 W. Diversey Ave.) pop-up, where customers could snag entire loaves of bread as grocery takeout. “The pop-up kept our stressed-out little hands busy during a stressful time. It got our name out there, and we were able to develop some recipes,” said Mispagel.
But the pop-up was only a side effect of the pandemic. “We had always known we wanted a brick and mortar [restaurant[, and it was in August 2021 when we found our space,” Mispagel said. “We took a couple of days and then barreled ahead with it.”
In the beginning, the early pandemic trend of at-home bread making worried the duo. “Everyone had a sourdough starter, and I was like … ‘everyone is going to get really good at this.’ But then, two months later, everyone was producing these sad, burnt loaves,” said Mispagel. “And I think that was a weirdly good thing for us because a lot of people realized how much energy it takes to make a loaf of bread.”
Sandwiches: A Perfect Food
“Bread is something we’re both passionate about,” Lustbader said. “Sarah’s background is pastry. Mine is savory, and we both come together with bread. I think sandwiches are a perfect food – they’re accessible, they’re diverse, they’re available, and require all levels of intricacy and complication, from very simple to very decadent.”
“No one doesn’t like a sandwich,” Mispagel added.
While Loaf Lounge has no official opening date yet, the cafe is set to open later this summer. When it does, Loaf Lounge will take its place along a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Avondale that’s seen a host of new businesses lately, from horror-themed The Brewed coffee shop (2843 N. Milwaukee Ave.) to taxidermy museum the Insect Asylum (2870 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
“We’re so excited to be a part of the Avondale community,” said Lustbader. “We’ve met a bunch of nearby businesses, and they’re all super friendly and welcoming. A bunch is coming, and it’s super exciting.”
Stay up to date on Loaf Lounge’s next moves on Instagram and Facebook.
Featured photo: Jacob Hand
Join The Discussion