Mindy Segal says she needs a fresh start, and to do that, she needed to let go of the space where her restaurant, Mindy’s HotChocolate, operated for 15 years. With that in mind, Segal is moving her weekends-only operation, Mindy’s Bakery, around the corner to a new permanent home inside the former Red Hen Bakery near Wicker Park’s Six Corners intersection.
Segal, who projects a Valentine’s Day opening, says she feels energized. The new bakery won’t be just open on weekends: Segal says the new bakery will be open five days a week. Expect Segal’s signature bagels and pastries in the morning, with more savory items — like pot pies and pastries with brisket and confit chicken thighs — in the afternoon.
For the last year, customers have crowded the sidewalks in front of Segal’s storefront on Damen, with people waiting in line for bagels, bialy, vegan banana bread, chocolate fudge babka, and more. The Mindy’s Bakery at 1747 N. Damen Avenue is a limited operation, selling a small selection of cookies, quiches, and mac and cheese — along with coffee and Segal’s famous hot chocolate from 8 a.m. until it’s sold out.
The bakery’s team will bring all those goods to the former Red Hen, which closed in 2018. Segal has fond memories of Red Hen, saying they were a pioneer in popularizing artisan baked goods in Chicago. She remembers their sourdough and walking through the minimalist space to look at the pastries in the display case. She wants to replicate that feeling at her own bakery. It will be mostly a carryout operation, though some seats will be available.
A James Beard Foundation Award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012, Segal has shown a savvy for business with her own line of marijuana edibles. She also opened a stall at Revival Food Hall in the Loop and sells her goods at the United Center. But Segal says that she recently had an epiphany saying that “that after 35 years of cooking and baking and running a restaurant, and running a business — I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.”
She and her business partner were looking at larger spaces with wholesale in mind before she and her investor purchased the Red Hen building. She credits a spiritual awakening with transforming the way she approaches work, crediting the folk rock music of the Avett Brothers (and a recent trip to Iowa to see them for the Hinterland Music Festival) for the new direction: “It isn’t about the loud and crazy, it’s about character,” Segal says.
Segal made the transition from pastry chef to helming her own restaurant in 2005; she closed in spring 2020. Segal says she always planned to close after 15 years, believing that it was time to exit the restaurant world. However, the closure happened just at the start of the pandemic and the suspension of indoor dining, which made the decision a good one.
About 500 square feet of the former Red Hen’s 2,500 is open to the public. Segal says there will be some thoughtful design elements — like vintage light fixtures from the ‘50s, and a 12-foot baker’s table imported from Italy. The space, 1623 N. Milwaukee Avenue, is actually a little smaller than the one on Damen. Segal doesn’t want to distracted by fruitless endeavors. For decades, she’s witnessed how the workplace has changed in the restaurant world, including how women have been treated. Downsizing will allow her to focus on the needs of the 20 people on her staff and on leading them better. She doesn’t want to be an absentee chef who is constantly out of the kitchen.
While she won’t return to Revival, she will maintain her relationship with the Foxtrot chain. Their stores stock Segal’s fresh-baked goods and packaged items like her hot chocolate blends. Segal says her pastry chef, Bo Durham, has been focusing on the desserts while she cooks savory items, like the brisket. She’s also expanding her gluten-free line. Segal maintains a gluten-free diet and she wants to make sure her customers have better options.
Right now, the Red Hen is bare; the space has been gutted. Mindy’s will have to shut down operations for a month to prepare for the move, but Segal is hopeful for a February opening. She compares the bakery to a musician’s studio.
“I’m so much more at peace with myself,” Segal says.
Mindy’s Bakery, 1623 N. Milwaukee Avenue, scheduled to open in February.