Photo: Do-Rite doughnuts
With its burgeoning restaurant scene and its vibrant startup culture, Chicago is one of the best places in the country to start a business. We spoke to friends and colleagues and polled readers to bring you the coolest and most innovative new businesses in the Windy City.
The winners, listed in alphabetical order, have all opened since (or just before) Fall 2011 and include a doughnut shop run by an alum of one of Chicago’s best restaurants, a personal shopping service, an Argentinian empanada shop and a startup that’s changing how the service industry hires.
What it is: European-inspired diner food.
Why it's cool: Au Cheval's not your typical diner, with dishes like a fried homemade bologna sandwich, duck heart hash and a pork porterhouse. They also have an excellent burger.
This diner has more than 30 international beers on tap.
What it is: A personal shopping service founded in November 2011 that strives to give women more free time.
Why it's cool: The CakeStylists work with clients' different budgets, work dress codes, and preferred designers. You can also buy CakeStyle as a gift for friends and family.
What it is: A custom sales software company that helps Chicago-based online businesses build their online stores by making it easier for their customers to personalise, visualise, buy and share products in different colours, styles, and designs.
Why it's cool: Citizen Made gives its primarily local and small business clients the option for their customers to share their purchases through social media in order to increase brand awareness.
What it is: High-end doughnuts and coffee.
Why it's cool: One of the chefs is an alum of L2O, one of Chicago's most renowned fine dining restaurants. The doughnuts, ranging from classics like Boston Creme Pie to more arcane flavours like Banofee Pie and Candied Maple Bacon, are so popular that the owners are reportedly contemplating a second location.
Daily specials like S'more doughnuts and rum glazed pineapple fritters make each visit a bit different. There are vegan and gluten-free options available every day.
What it is: A micro-restaurant named one of the best in Chicago.
Why it's cool: EL has only one seating a night at a communal table. Dining here is an interactive experience, with each of the dishes explained by the chef and his small staff. If the idea of eating with 16 or so strangers makes you nervous, the food might convince you otherwise.
Recent inventive dishes include 'cherries' (pictured; which are made from sea grapes, katsuobushi and umeboshi) and 'French Fries and Ice Cream' (potato with leeks and vanilla).
What it is: A combination bar and arcade.
Why it's cool: Rather than a lonely Deer Hunter machine at the back of bar, Emporium has a huge variety of classic arcade games from The Simpsons to Galaga, as well as a variety of pinball machines. There are more than 20 craft beers on tap.
The games are next to convenient shelves to hold your drink during particularly competitive gaming sessions.
What it is: Argentinian-style empanadas on the go and in a new storefront.
Why it's cool: After several years running a successful food truck, 5411 Empanadas recently opened its first storefront. Named for the dialling code for Buenos Aires, they offer classic Argentinian-style empanadas.
However, flavours like ratatouille and banana nutella are anything but classic.
What it is: A florist company founded in March 2012 that donates a backpack full of school supplies to a student in need for every bouquet purchased.
Why it's cool: The company's flowers are sourced organically, grown sustainably, and delivered locally in and around Boston and Chicago. After their first six months of operating, Flowers for Dreams had donated 1,750 backpacks in Chicago, and 525 in Boston after the first three months, according to an email from one of the co-founders.
What it is: A curated online marketplace for local and vintage furniture.
Why it's cool: Anyone who's had a bad experience with Craigslist can see where the idea came from.
Furnishly makes the process of finding and buying great furniture from individuals and a variety of partner stores easier and more reliable.
What it is: Contemporary American prix-fixe restaurant.
Why it's cool: Named the year's best new restaurant by Chicago Magazine, Goosefoot is named for the genus of plants that include beets and swiss chard. The food often looks more like art than something to eat.
The dishes are described simply with the ingredients that make them up, like the 'angus beef/cauliflower/goosefoot/trumpet royale/shallot jus' that appeared on a recent menu.
What it is: Madame Zuzu's is a 1930s-style Chinese tea house which opened in mid-September 2012.
Why it's cool: Zuzu's was started by Billy Corgan, frontman of the Smashing Pumpkins. Patrons who visited the tea house for its grand opening on September 13th were able to meet Corgan and hear him play some acoustic sets.
What it is: A bespoke suit service that recently arrived in Chicago.
Why it's cool: Already a hit in Silicon Valley, Proper Suit takes the hassle and pretentiousness out of great custom-made suits.
Once you've been measured by one of the company's tailors, all you need to do is send a photo or explanation of what you're looking for and the team will get to work.
What it is: Rentalutions is an online property management platform that helps landlords manage their properties. It was founded in Chicago in April 2012.
Why it's cool: The founders created Rentalutions to bring more landlords into the digital age. Landlords can manage their property rentals online and run background and credit checks on tenants with this program.
What it is: An online hiring and job search engine for the service industry in Chicago.
Why it's cool: Shiftgig makes it easier for applicants to find service industry jobs--from sommeliers and pastry chefs to general managers--and for Chicago-based companies to find the right employees.
It's almost like a social network or dating site for the industry, giving applicants a 'fit score' for different opportunities and offering more 'gigs' as they make their profile more complete.
What it is: An app that allows people to find and reserve parking spots in Chicago.
Why it's cool: Parking in Chicago can be, well, difficult. SpotHero allows users to view rates, get deals and reserve spots wherever they might be headed in Chicago. Users can just flash their phone at a partner garage and park.
The app also takes some of the agita out of parking at giant events.
What it is: Craft cocktail bar.
Why it's cool: The recently opened spot has more than 50 classic and original cocktails and a kitchen run by a Charlie Trotter's alum that's open until four in the morning.
Dishes include pig face poutine and a popcorn and cotton candy of the day. House cocktails like 'Taking Care Of Fizzness' are listed with their inventor on the menu.
What it is: A '60s inspired retro cocktail bar in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighbourhood.
The bar also hosts fun '60s-inspired events like card night, complete with retro-styled decks.
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