Tucked in between The Bagel and a quiet dentist’s office on Broadway, Lakeview Kitchen & Market seems like a quiet storefront. Then you walk inside and realize that behind the storefront, there’s an enormous, gleaming industrial kitchen with shelves of oats, cereal, and more flour than you could believe. This is more than a bakery: this is the home of 35 businesses. I sat down with the co-owner Maggie O’Brien to find out more about what makes Lakeview Kitchen & Market so special -- and, if we’re being honest, to get tips on how she manages to make hundreds of perfect macarons for Velvet Dessert, her baked goods brand.
O’Brien has been baking her whole life, but has come a long way from the sleepover meal of chocolate chip cookies with a side of chocolate chip pancakes of her childhood (although, full disclosure, that sounds like something I would still eat as an adult). When she was starting out, O’Brien used a shared kitchen to jump-start her own catering business. Because keeping costs low was so important, she was driving out to a shared kitchen in the suburbs close to where her mom, Wendy Grahn, the co-owner of Lakeview Kitchen & Market, lived.
“Then my mom moved into the city, and it became time to think about whether or not I wanted to launch this into a fully-fledged catering company,” said O’Brien. But the pair was still hesitant: the market in Chicago is saturated, and the risks were high. After a fruitless search for space in a shared kitchen, O’Brien and Grahn were struck with the solution: open a shared kitchen space themselves. They fell into the perfect location (the space the 73-year-old House of Fine Chocolates had just vacated), O’Brien “dragged my mom out of corporate America,” and they started building the shared kitchen space of their dreams, all while O’Brien continued to build her catering business Velvet Dessert, one of the 35 businesses to call Lakeview Kitchen & Market its home. The Kitchen has become a safe space for restaurants looking to focus on their catering operations, small bakers looking for a place to run a company, and soon-to-be-independent operations who need a launching pad. “It’s evolved into a way more collaborative experience than we expected,” laughed O’Brien. “I had no idea how much I would end up advising people on their businesses and cooking.”
Unlike Lakeview Kitchen & Market, O’Brien runs Velvet Dessert on her own, a mammoth undertaking given the popularity of her unique, high-quality pastries (and yes, I’m biased, because I could take a bath in her French buttercream). O’Brien is a graduate of the French Pastry School here in Chicago -- “It’s the best place in the world! I wish I could go back to school every single day forever!”-- and she also interned at a bakery during her four month course. Between that and bouncing around the back-of-the-houses in many a bakery both here in Chicago and in Columbus where she went to school, O’Brien became an expert, and it shows in her well-curated menu at Velvet Dessert.
Velvet Dessert’s menu is the epitome of the everywoman’s indulgence: French pastry training that has been translated into approachable, high-quality baked goods like macarons, croissants, scones, and more tarts than you can imagine. “Our menu got quite a bit more expanded than I had initially intended,” said O’Brien. “I kind of have pastry ADD.” As a frequent consumer of her goods, may I just say here that I totally support the pastry ADD, and that my favorite thing is everything.
Do yourself a favor the next time you’re walking down Broadway and stop in the Lakeview Kitchen & Market to sample the treats from Velvet Desserts and all of the other vendors. A huge selection of all things delicious awaits you, and even better, so does the opportunity to support a blossoming business with a unique model.
“People don’t understand what a shared kitchen is because there aren’t a lot that you see as a storefront with a retail presence like we have on Broadway,” said O’Brien. “It’s hard to explain what a unique opportunity our shop owners have until you see it.”
Lakeview Kitchen & Market is located at 3109 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657.