Last week, I flew to Chicago, where I had the wonderful privilege of spending a few days working with my sister, Anna, in her new restaurant, Blackberry Market.
Anna and her husband, Robert, opened Blackberry in December. I spent a harried couple of days there in January and just got a small glimpse of the madness, but this time I got to really dive in and see what’s going on in this darling cafe.
I washed dishes, chopped vegetables, and made soups and salads alongside Anna’s amazing cook staff. Anna was in and out of the kitchen all week. While I settled into a rhythm in the back, she was taking calls, meeting with clients about catering, working the sandwich line up front, ordering food, fielding complaints and compliments (in person and via email), receiving orders and managing about one million other details.
All fall, as Anna was working towards the reality that is now Blackberry Market, I was thinking she had lost her mind.
She navigated so many hurdles just to get to opening day that it seemed like the race was won when the doors flew open in December, but it turns out that it was only the beginning.
Running one’s own restaurant is filled with blood, sweat and tears. I do not exaggerate when I say that I would have died four times already under the pressure Anna is daily facing, but I am so proud of her. Though she still has an uphill climb in front of her to get through her first year in the business and hopefully turn a profit, she has succeeded in creating the beautiful community of her dreams. Around food.
When you walk through this wonderful space, you see all sorts of people talking across tables and eating the most delicious sandwiches, salads and treats.
Two dads and six children at a long table on Saturday morning having cinnamon rolls and muffins.
Friends sharing tastes of salad trios, chosen from a case full of yummy salads made fresh daily.
A man with his morning coffee, newspaper and homemade buttermilk biscuits with house blackberry jam.
Moms drinking lattes made with Intelligentsia coffee in tall glass mugs.
College students with their books and laptops, studying at tables or laughing with friends.
And the staff, oh the beautiful faces that make up the team Anna has painstakingly put together to run Blackberry.
More college students rolling up their sleeves and coming in early before class to make cupcakes or after class to wash dishes and serve food.
Long time fellow pastry chefs that have worked with Anna in this industry helping make Blackberry feel like home to customer and employee alike.
Cooks who bring their own ideas and creativity to the salad case or the soup of the day, printing off recipes at home and coming in excited to try something new. They taste each others’ creations and give suggestions and praise.
I am telling you, it is amazing.
Blackberry Market gets its name from Anna’s memories of picking blackberries with my grandparents who lived in the country in Arkansas. We spent weeks there in the summer, painting with my grandmother, swimming in streams and picking summer fruit. My grandmother’s paintings line one wall in the restaurant.
Below is video Anna and Robert made for their Indiegogo Campaign in the fall when they were trying to come up with enough money to get it up and running. The campaign is now closed, but it’s still fun to watch this video about their hopes for what Blackberry Market will be to their community.
If you’re in the area, Blackberry Market is just a hop, skip and jump from the train station in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, so make sure to stop in, eat a bite and say hello. You can also help Anna (and any other independent restaurant owner who is sweating their dreams into their daily work) by leaving a positive review on Yelp or TripAdvisor or liking them on Facebook. It will make their day, I promise!