The last time Jason Hammel and Kevin Heisner came together, Nightwood emerged in Pilsen to rave reviews from both culinary and design perspectives. Now the pair have re-teamed, but instead of working on a brand new concept, they're expanding Lula Cafe, Hammel's 11-year-old Logan Square space.
Don't expect major changes to the existing dining room, but come May (or maybe June, you know how restaurant construction projects go) you will see a lot more Lula. The storefront to the north was recently vacated by Ruby's Cleaners, which moved around the corner making way for a great opportunity for Hammel to create a new "pastry gallery" for Kate Neumann (mk, Blackbird, Hot Chocolate), who recently joined the Lula team as pastry chef.
The new space will add 1,200 square feet, giving Hammel the opportunity to build out the new pastry kitchen, which will be open to the rest of the room. Neumann will prepare more breakfast pastries and regular plated desserts for lunch and dinner; she's already adding her influence with items like chocolate and banana torte; goat milk panna cotta; and various muffins, quiche and cakes.
The pastry gallery, as Hammel calls it, will share the space with an enlarged bar that will incorporate an expanded coffee program. "We've always been Intelligentsia customers, and we want to do things that are more reflective of seasonality," Hammel said. That includes introducing pour-over coffees and working with Intelligentsia's Jay Cunningham to learn variable pressure-brewing techniques.
Lula will remove the existing bar, knock down the north wall and create one large flowing space. Hammel said they've uncovered many interesting design elements in the new space, which is in a very old building. Heisner will incorporate reclaimed wood, recovered tin and other materials they've discovered. And this side will be saved entirely for walk-ins as Lula will start taking reservations for the current dining room once the expansion project is complete.
"What's going to be nice is that [the new side] has big, bright windows and the bar will be up front by the windows," Hammel said. "The design won't be completely divergent, but there will be a contrast." And yes, they'll source new buttons to add to a wall on the new side to reflect the collection in the current dining room.
The new space will have 12-15 seats at the bar, about 30 seats in the dining area and a larger table in the back toward Neumann's pastry kitchen to seat eight to 10 people for semi-private parties. And the expansion will allow for Lula to add to their existing patio, but the number of seats will be dictated by the city; Hammel said he thinks it'll be about 15 more spots.
As for the food, the major changes will be seen in the pastry area. The current kitchen won't expand, but Hammel said they're making upgrades by adding a steam-injected oven, possibly a new ice cream machine and some other fun toys. "In terms of savory side, I think we change enough that I don't feel any prominent changes need to be announced," Hammel said.
Hammel hopes the project will be completed by May, but because they will have to tear down the existing north wall, Lula will have to close for a short time. Hammel said Heisner told him it'll be a quick job. "I want to be open for the summer and I'll stop at nothing to get that but I don't want to promise anybody anything," Hammel said.