When Chicago hospitality veterans Sarah Mispagel and Ben Lustbader got married in 2019, they spent their honeymoon talking about the future — a natural conversation after such a momentous event. But the pair weren’t envisioning a white picket fence or a family-friendly mini-van: Instead, they dreamed of a restaurant of their own.
“As we talked about what our next steps as a couple were, we talked about what moves we’d be making when we got back to real life,” Mispagel says. “We decided we wanted to barrel ahead and open up our own place.”
That vision will become a reality in August when they unveil Loaf Lounge, a cozy all-day cafe at 2934 N. Milwaukee Avenue where neighbors can while away the hours over with Mispagel’s baked goods and Lustbader’s sandwiches.
The story of the couple’s friendship-turned-romance and the invention of Loaf Lounge are inextricable from one another. Mispagel, a pastry chef who previously worked at decorated Chicago restaurants including Mk, Sepia, and Proxi, met Lustbader when they both worked at Nightwood, chef Jason Vincent’s now-shuttered Pilsen restaurant. They were drawn to one another, inspired by the other’s work ethos and technique; Lustbader, too, was immersed in the world of neighborhood hospitality, working at Logan Square staple Lula Cafe, as well as Vincent’s nearby hit restaurant Giant where he was a partner.
Leaving behind all other gigs and projects in early 2020, the pair spent the past year holding pop-ups using the same Loaf Lounge branding. Many were held over several months at Superkhana International, the modern Indian restaurant where Lustbader worked for a part-time stint. The cafe represents the culmination of those experiences, personal and professional, catalyzed in the crucible of the COVID-19 pandemic — especially when it comes to Mispagel and Lustbader’s commitment to serving the communities around them.
“We want to be a neighborhood spot — a really comfortable place for anybody,” says Lustbader. “If people want to travel to visit us, that’s wonderful, but we’re really stoked to be in Avondale.”
Loaf Lounge’s menu is not yet finalized, but bread will feature alongside desserts and pastries such as buttery, crunchy kouign amann and bear claws (Mispagel’s mother’s favorite) with almond cream filling. Those who are eager for an early peek at her baked goods can catch glimpses on Hulu smash-hit The Bear, which hired Mispagel as a consulting pastry chef and spotlighted her doughs, doughnuts, and even the famous chocolate cake that Marcus, portrayed by actor Lionel Boyce, makes on the show.
Lustbader, who is particularly passionate about sandwiches, promises a BLT on jalapeno cheddar bread, plus a California veggie sandwich on sourdough inspired by Mispagel’s youth in San Diego, and “big salads.”
At just 25 seats in a roughly 700-square-foot dining space, Loaf Lounge patrons should anticipate an intimate experience. But there will be plenty to look at, especially once Mispagel’s pastry case is filled with her creations. (For the time being, it sits empty save for a single plastic replica sandwich procured in Japan.)
“We’re aiming for a small, stable, dependable menu that will hopefully give us some breathing room to take on seasonal projects,” says Lustbader. “But our backgrounds are still in creative approaches to food and we’re not trying to walk away from that — we want to embrace it where it’s practical or fun, to cook with the seasons and hangout at farmers markets.”
Stay tuned for updates on an opening date — and a chance to snag some of that chocolate cake — at Loaf Lounge.
Loaf Lounge, 2934 N. Milwaukee Avenue; scheduled to open in August.