Working through the COVID-19 pandemic pushed Stephen Sandoval to reexamine his priorities. He quit his job as executive chef of Leña Brava in the West Loop and kicked off a pop-up dinner series in August. Named Entre Sueños, which translates from Spanish to “between dreams,” the intimate events were meant as a step along the way to his dream of opening his own restaurant.
Now that dream is a little closer to reality. Sandoval recently won the restaurant category of Soho House Chicago’s first entrepreneurship competition, which comes with a six-month residency inside the West Loop club. The pop-up debuts on Wednesday, April 20, giving Sandoval the opportunity to test his concept rent-free while he looks for a permanent space in West Town.
At Soho House, Sandoval will run a more casual spinoff of his lavish pop-up. He’ll serve fish tacos, ceviche, tostadas and California burritos for lunch and dinner inside the former Chicken Shop.
“Growing up in San Diego, it’s my street favorites from both sides of the border,” Sandoval says of his Baja menu.
The bar program will be heavy on mezcal and micheladas. On Sundays, while DJs and live artists perform, the restaurant will serve spins on the breakfast dishes Sandoval’s Mexican grandmother made. Once he’s settled in, Sandoval also hopes to use the space to bring back Entre Sueños’s coursed-out dinners.
“We’re just going to try to cook really good food,” Sandoval says. “We’re going to hone in on what our concept is, what components we want to bring to a brick and mortar, and how we can keep the Entre Sueños experience.”
Sandoval lavished praise on how Soho House helps entrepreneurs and creatives.
“We’re going the long route and not getting a bunch of investors or a restaurant group to back us,” he says. “It takes a little more time to find the right space that’s affordable to us.”
The Chicago contest also awarded a residency to Monday Coffee Company, an experiential coffee bar concept from South Side natives Amanda Christine Harth and Felton Kizer. Monday Coffee originally launched in October 2020, serving ready-to-drink cold brew at pop-ups around the city; it currently has a residency in the Garfield Park Conservatory’s Horticulture Hall.
Monday Coffee will provide traditional coffee service along with cold brew flights and espresso martinis in the former The Allis coffee bar space on the lobby level at Soho House, where it previously popped up in August to run a “study hall” to provide coffee service to members of the club’s coworking space. Harth and Kizer also want to host barista training and coffee throwdowns.
After Monday Coffee closes at 3 p.m. each day, the ground floor space and patio will be open to the public from 4 to 10 p.m. Soho House will serve cocktails and beer and host DJs Thursday through Saturday.
Harth says she sees the residency as a chance to tighten all of Monday Coffee’s operations.
“It’s just about becoming more organized on the back end while getting our staff all on one page in terms of how to serve water and great guests,” she says. “I think we’re doing good with that and this is a chance to do even better.”
Soho House, which was founded to bring together like-minded creatives in the arts, politics, and media — membership is by application — launched Soho Chance in 2021 in London, spanning seven categories including design and wellbeing. The initiative is part of House Foundations, the club’s social responsibility initiative, which concentrates on causes like the environment, diversity and inclusion, and mentorship. The Chicago competition was the club’s second, says House Foundations head Jamila Brown, who wants the program to expand to other cities.
Applicants submitted business plans in December and January, which were assessed by a panel of judges who have previously worked with Soho House. Along with free space, the winners also receive mentorship to help them refine their concepts and take care of logistics such as setting up payroll and creating an LLC.
“Their whole thing is helping young entrepreneurs really succeed,” Sandoval says. “I think it’s going to be a good relationship. I have a lot of ideas and my style’s kind of out there, but I think they appreciate that.”
He adds: “It’s kind of a fun process because I’m learning so much about opening a restaurant.”
Soho House, 113-125 N. Green Street: Monday Coffee, open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily starting April 4; Sueños, open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday starting April 20.