Five years ago, two new independent businesses took a chance and opened their unique takes on food and drink in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. One, a “slashie” liquor store in the front and bar in the back, another a mom-and-pop British-style meat pie shop. That bar is, of course, Maria’s Community Bar, which previously was an old family-run tavern. The pie shop is Pleasant House Bakery, our first business, which we plopped inside a former hot dog stand next door.
While PHB and Maria’s shared a community–and sometimes restrooms–and the building landlord of Pleasant House was Maria herself, Pleasant House operated on its own, as did the bar. But a chemistry came out of this relationship, and the Maria’s/Pleasant House one-two-punch of ordering at PHB and having your food delivered to eat at Maria’s soon became a thing.
There’s still time to experience “that thing,” which Time Out Chicago called one of the “101 things to experience in Chicago,” before Pleasant House moves on to our new home just north of the river (our last day in Bridgeport is Saturday, June 11, 2016).
This isn’t a sad visitation; it’s more like a birthday party with friends, a time to eat and drink and reminisce about the old times and those memories that any group of friends have. There have been so many accomplishments among us during these past five years, and hopefully many of you got to experience it–and will continue to be a part of our shared community even though the PHB/Maria’s dynamic will be changing. We are forever grateful for the opportunity to start where we did and believe we accomplished so much more than just delivering good food.
There’s a certain zen that comes from owning a small business, especially for first-time, bootstrapping business owners such as us, so the highs and lows, the good and the bad, the happy and sad moments, big things, small and seemingly insignificant things all come to mean something. For those who you who haven’t been able to visit us, some context here. At the time when we were looking for a home for Pleasant House, Maria’s was being reimagined as a hip, new, craft beer and cocktail bar and was looking for a quality food business to occupy its space next door. We liked the direction of the bar and the idea to introduce its patrons to our offerings, and vice versa. We loved the community and the space, even though it needed quite a bit of elbow grease just to get open, and decided to take a chance and open our first business.
We did our thing, Maria’s did its thing, and out of it came a third thing: the experience. Mike Gebert of Sky Full of Bacon and Fooditor captured the latter in his documentary Farm to Barstool.
About the farm: The garden or farm has always been an integral component of the Pleasant House history. The original Pleasant House was my dad’s childhood home in Yorkshire, England, and fresh produce such as that pulled from its gardens and orchards are symbols of the modern day eatery. PHB has several Pleasant Farms spaces, the flagship located just down the street from our original Bridgeport restaurant, at UrbanLab, as featured in Farm to Barstool. Like the WWI-era apple and damson orchards behind the original Pleasant House in England, which still bear fruit, our UrbanLab farm will continue to supply produce for our new restaurant.
One of our gardens–a special, one might say, “wondrous,” place–was a result of a group of friends and family, neighbors, passersby, artists, musicians, and students, basically anyone who wanted to volunteer time, energy, and ideas to it. It started as a vacant lot and is now a little garden of Eden with annuals, perennials, vegetables, landscaping, and several years of memories. We don’t own the land; we have permission to use it now. Today it is here, but tomorrow it could be gone.
We feel the same about the Maria’s/PHB experience as we do about our farm and gardens. We cultivated both because we believed they were something special, never anticipating that they might go away but knowing that someday either of them might change. We are proud of our partnership and grateful for our landlords and friends at Maria’s for the opportunity to have a venue, and thankful for the community that captured that PH/Maria’s lightning bolt in the bottle. It was us, the businesses, who provided the content; and it was our customers and community who valued the experience and gave it a name throughout the city and even around the country.
As we prepare to move to a new home, Maria’s has given birth to a food concept of its own, Kimski’s, and an expanded bar, so we’d like to think we’re not leaving a void in the dining options at 31st and Morgan streets (plus, our Pleasant Farms produce is making a regular appearance on the Kimski menu!). We are excited to see the new generation of experiences that will emerge on that corner in the future. Until then, we invite you to come and see a bit of that lightning, which we will always keep in a jar and maybe even open again on a special occasion.