Suzanne Florek and her line cooks at Salty Fig
New acquaintances look at my business card and ask, “So, where’s your restaurant?” I then explain that Chez Madelaine operates a school due to a ‘no restaurant’ clause in my marriage contract. (A career in food service is a notorious marriage disruptor.) What then is a married woman with children and the dream of opening a restaurant to do?
The short answer is that she waits until the children are grown. At this point the emotional and physical demands of a creating a food enterprise outside the home requires extra initiative. On the other hand, women who've spent two decades managing a household and weathering the demands of marriage have developed survival skills The good news is that more mature women have been opening food enterprises. Three recent start-ups exemplify the diversity among these women and their dreams.
Local high schoolers stop by for a snack at Salty Fig's communal table.
During the decade that we owned an apartment in Paris several small food businesses sprouted along our street as the quarter became gentrified. I watched a chic, single mother with four grown children turn a 500 sq.ft. minimally decorate space into a popular gathering place for young neighborhood families She relies on her competence as a home cook to turn out a limited daily menu of soup, sandwiches, a quiche-of-the-day and several showy desserts . Her staff of one young woman has trouble keeping up during busy mealtimes. The French don't mind; diners expect to wait, but it would drive an American nuts. One key feature is a small nook set aside with books and toys for preschoolers. This “tarterie” is a place for families to pause, get comfortable and connect.
I experience a similar calm atmosphere when entering Steam Coffee, Inc. in nearby Oak Brook even though it’s tucked in among large franchise stores in a mall at a busy intersection. Owner Joi Thompson is a Seattle native and also a mother of four. Her training is in healthcare services but she knows coffee and the importance of connecting with customers. This coffee shop thrives on its spacious layout and the warm, attentive service of an experienced barista who checks with customers at their tables as they work or dine. Joi has made her food start-up a family project in fullest sense of the word. Her husband helped design and build decorative elements, a college-age son handles the books and the two youngest children wait tables and wash dishes after high school.
Lentils/Kabocha/Cauliflower/Buratta/Parm.Croutons at Salty Fig
The most ambitious new food start-up that could become your home away from home, is Salty Fig located across from the train station in downtown Western Springs. It's clear from the breadth of its offerings that chef/owner Suzanne Florek has spent a long time developing her dream. She was chef at Chicago’s highly regarded Spiaggia restaurant B.C. (before children) and waited until her twin boys were in college to start work on her restaurant.
Salty Fig straddles foodservice categories catering to commuters as early as 5:30 am and offering a wide variety of mediterranean-inspired salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts to a sit-down clientele all day long. Returning city workers as well as mothers-on-the-run will soon be able to purchase a freshly cooked evening meal until 7pm. Wine, beer and cocktails are available after 11:30 am. Did I miss anything? Oh, yes, a purchase from the store’s pantry of high quality olives, oils and prize-winning Indiana goat cheese will pep up your leftovers at home.
In addition to closing in the early evening, Salty Fig is not open on the weekends. Why lose out on these high-volume days?Suzanne notes on the homepage of the restaurant’s website :”the chef wishes to remain married”. I salute these women and those I have yet to meet. They are living a dream that connects us all.
Salty Fig's mix of daily vegetable salads.