Chef Danny Grant wants to take Chicagoans (and visitors) to Europevia his latest spot, Cafe Sophie, which opened April 14.
Named after Grant's aunt, Cafe Sophie (a 2,500-square-foot space at 847 N. State St., in the Gold Coast) is a laid-back spot that instantly transports people away from Chicago (and, possibly, some of their troubles). The European influences are everywhere, from the cafe/market concept to the decor to some of the delectable dishes, like the club sandwich and the irresistible banana breadalthough the truffled grilled cheese and fire-roasted chicken look pretty appealing as well. And Cafe Sophie's already bustling, as two separate visits (including one on a Sunday morning) proved.
Windy City Times talked with Grant (of the Chicago-based hospitality group What If Syndicate, which also owns etta as well as Maple & Ash) about the cafe and personal realizations, among other things.
Windy City Times: Tell me about the genesis of this placeand wasn't it supposed to be called Delilah's [after Grant's daughter]?
Chef Danny Grant: It was, but we changed the name because of copyright-infringement issues with other places with the same name. There's a Delilah's bar [in Chicago] and then there's a Delilah's out in L.A. The only one who was truly disappointed was my daughter, who's 7, but she's fine.
With Cafe Sophie, we wanted to create a place you could come to all day, whether it was the morning, afternoon or eveninga place where you could grab something [quickly] but also hang out all day if you wanted and let life pass by. We see people doing exactly that; sometimes, people sit here for a couple hours and just relax.
We opened an etta in Scottsdale on April 7 and opened here on April 14.
WCT: You grew up in Scottsdale?
DG: I grew up in New York and spent five years in Scottsdale.
WCT: Tell me about the food here.
DG: Everything is created, more or less, incredibly fresh. It's either from the wood-fired oven or you have the sweet treats right here. We want the items to be as fresh and healthy as possible. The menu takes you through the evening, whether you want a light, healthy salad to a sandwich; then we get into more evening-related things, like sitting and having a cocktail or a glass of wine. We have this focaccia or roasted items, like Spanish chorizo or roasted vegetables. It was important for us to embrace that "take a breath," European momentespecially in the fast-paced world of the Gold Coast.
WCT: Do you foresee the menu changing seasonally?
DG: There'll be two phases to that. The first answer is yes, I see it changing seasonally. The second answer would be it will change the menu according to what's available to market. For us, this is a new style of service so we're going to be observing everything from hours of operation to what sells, so we'll be tweaking things as we go along.
The hard part is done: opening the place. Now it's about fine-tuning and tweaking.
WCT: I read that you're planning on opening similar concepts in different cities. What's the difference between that and opening a chain of restaurants?
DG: That's a great question. We have etta [restaurants] in multiple cities. I think the real important thing is that we go in with open minds, and I like to understand the market because each one is different. It's about understanding what makes people tickand weather can even be a part of it. In Chicago, with the cold, we'll probably have more hot stuff; but in the West, where it's 110, we'll have more cold stuff.
WCT: With the legal situation going on with What If Syndicate, are you comfortable with the future of Cafe Sophie? [Eater Chicago reported that What If co-founder David Pisor has filed a lawsuit against co-founder Jim Lasky, claiming the latter is trying to oust him from their company.]
WCT: What have you learned about yourself in the past couple years, as we've all had a lot of time to self-reflect?
DG: That's a great question. I've learned the value of being home a little bit moreand that's something that was hard for me, as I grew up always being on the go and being non-stop at the restaurants. I learned to appreciate home time, especially with me having traveled so much.
The pandemic tested me and the entire team, physically and emotionally. We were trying to keep the restaurants open, and the whole [experience] was just taxing. What I learned from thatand this is a constant battlewas to appreciate self-help and mental clarity a little more, for myself and the entire team. I plan to take a little time to breathe in the near future.
WCT: Is there anything you wanted to add about this space.
DG: For me, it's still a work in progress but what I enjoy the most about it is that this space really transports you. It's timeless and a bit Old World. The market has everything from wine to high-end chocolates.
What I also like about the market is that, being in the restaurant business, I take for granted the accessibility I have to really great wine, beautiful olive oils and sea salts. We want the rest of the community to have the same sort of accessibility to these items to cook with, to drink with, host a party with and all that kind of stuff.
*Cafe Sophie offers breakfast dishes 7-11 a.m., and lunch/dinner options at 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Its website is www.thecafesophie.com .
Note: This visit was arranged.