Long lines formed in late August in Bucktown when Beard Papa’s resumed selling Japanese cream puffs in Chicago. After an eight-year hiatus, demand for these delicate and adorable delights was high. Ownership says it sold more than 2,000 cream puffs on day one.
These puffs aren’t massive Wisconsin State Fair-style submissions or traditional French profiteroles, but rather, a precious creation unique to the brand that has become a global hit with 250 stores in Japan and 300 worldwide. Each store offers its own assortment, with shells in flavors like honey butter, s’mores, and Oreo crumble, and fillings including vanilla, green tea matcha, and brown sugar boba.
Chicagoans last saw Beard Papa’s in 2012 before it closed its sole city location at Block 37 in the Pedway in the Loop. But it left an impression on Hassan Jaffrani, the co-owner of local Mediterranean fast-casual chain I Dream of Falafel (IDOF). He also believes Beard Papa’s will remain popular even during cold winter temperatures.
“It’s very light and airy, and the cream is like a custard-y pudding — not too sweet, but the right amount of sweetness,” he says. “It’s something memorable, and once you finish a puff, you don’t feel overly stuffed like you just ruined your diet.”
Beard Papa’s patrons can create their own cream puff by choosing from a selection of shells and fillings. Vanilla custard has long reigned supreme as the top flavor across the company, but Jaffrani says he’s seen huge success with a brown sugar boba filling, a combination of creamy custard and tapioca pearls. It’s beens so popular that ownership got permission from corporate to keep it through the end of the month. October will feature a special Reese’s theme, and pumpkin spice is planned for November.
The flavor and texture of the puffs are key, but in the Instagram and TikTok era, looks count for a lot. Cute food is fun to photograph and share, resulting in free promotion for the business. Jaffrani says social media posts have customers buying three dozen cream puffs at a time — one Tik Tok post garnered 200,000 views before the shop even opened, according to the Trib.
He’s also managed to become a part of a growing trend in Chicago: playful food inspired by Japanese konbini, or convenience stores, which are known for their excellent assortment of snacks. Tribune writer Louisa Chu terms it a “mini kawaii konbini boom,” citing other new Japanese-influenced spots including virtual restaurant Nine Bar, Japanese comfort food spot Mom’s, and Kaisho Grab-and-Go, a new snack shop inside Michelin-starred West Loop restaurant Yugen.
The new spot, 1924 W. North Avenue, neighbors an IDOF and offers counter service and curbside pickup. Staff put down floor markers to encourage social distancing and is limiting the numbers inside the space. It can seat 20 inside with appropriately spaced tables, and there’s a bench outside that seats another 10. Once the pandemic eventually ends, he hopes Beard Papa’s becomes a destination for couples, groups of friends, and families where they can hang out, devour sweet treats, and play board games. Customers can currently place orders by phone, and delivery is scheduled to launch on big platforms like DoorDash and Uber Eats in the coming weeks.
Beard Papa’s, 1924 W. North Avenue, (773) 904-7280, Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.