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The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and Partner Chloe Mendel Revive Their Vegan Tea Shop

Madame ZuZu’s is back in suburban Chicago with a vegan menu

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan and partner Chloe Mendel stand behind a black counter inside a cafe space.
Billy Corgan and Chloe Mandel at their new tea shop.
Madame Zuzu’s [Official Photo]
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Madame ZuZu’s, the tea shop from suburban Chicago’s very own Billy Corgan, is back after a two-year slumber. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman, along with partner and fashion designer Chloe Mendel, have revived the tea shop at a new North Shore location. The new Madame ZuZu’s is open at 1876 First Street in Highland Park.

The shop will brew drinks from Rare Tea Cellar, the Ravenswood gourmet vendor that supplies teas to some of Chicago’s best restaurants. The teas compliment a largely gluten-free vegan menu with salads, bowls, and “over-the-top” grilled “cheese” sandwiches. ZuZu’s is using its own vegan cheese made with coconut oil, which Mendel says is superior because it lacks the synthetic taste that plagues other vegan cheese substitutes. Pastries and breads are made on premises, as are condiments like vegan mayonnaise and pickled veggies.

“Our goal is to bring good, quality food to Highland Park,” says Mendel. “We want to be involved in the community.”

A barista makes tea in a mortar and pestle.
Chloe Mendel prepares tea.
Madame ZuZu’s [Official Photo]

Corgan and Mendel closed the original iteration of Madame ZuZu’s in 2018 after a six-year run. At the time Corgan said business was strong, but they wanted a change. Mendel says the original tea shop was tiny. Even though they had room for live events, like comedy nights — Corgan even played concerts on occasion — the new space is larger. These events aren’t permitted during the pandemic, but Mendel is hopeful the teahouse could host them in the future.

As far as the timing of the opening, Mendel says she feels healthy food is important during the pandemic. Stay at home left people susceptible to poor habits. Now more than ever, Mendel wants to give Highland Park healthy choices, something residents can be happy about despite the chaos left by this public health crisis.

The teas rotate seasonally, and on occasion they’ll pour a special selection from Rare Tea Cellar’s vault. Some of those teas of a certain vintage or barrel-aged selections, are pricey. They’re rarely sold at shops. For example a quarter pound of 2012 Emperor’s Aged Keemun aged in oak barrels costs $60 online. Those types of teas will be the most expensive item sold at Madame Zuzu’s. Rare Tea Cellar is the company from Highland Park native Roderick Markus, a respected figure in Chicago’s culinary world. Markus is known for tracking down gourmet ingredients for chefs such as rare truffles and oils or vinegars.

But beyond those unique teas, Mendel says she wants to keep prices affordable. She adds that says she wants the new Madame ZuZu’s to be a place where non-vegan customers come to enjoy vegan food, with dishes like a meatball sub made with Impossible ground “meat.”

The cafe opened over Labor Day weekend for carryout and outdoor dining, Mendel says. Corgan and Mendel also hope to add retail space with items like tea ware, records, and hand-dipped incense.

Madame ZuZu’s, 1876 First Street in Highland Park, Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.