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Chef Danny Grant opens café/gourmet market in Chicago with a European vibe

Café Sophie is the latest addition to the growing multiconcept group What If Syndicate

In today's bustling world now roaring back to life, a new European-inspired café and gourmet market from Michelin star-winning chef Danny Grant opened in mid-April in Chicago with a quaint vision: bringing in a slower-paced Old World feel where guests can enjoy a leisurely meal any time of day.

Café Sophie, named after Grant's Aunt Sophie, is located in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood. Grant wants the place to be a comforting retreat that reflects the kind spirit of his beloved aunt, now in her late 80s.

Growing up in New York with his Aunt Sophie living nearby was always exciting, he said. "They loved to celebrate," he said of his aunt and uncle. "They always had the most fun, they always had the best food, the best wine. They were lovely, loving, giving, generous people. I thought it would be appropriate to name my restaurant after such a wonderful person."

The café is the newest addition to the Chicago-based hospitality group What If Syndicate, which first debuted with Maple & Ash in Chicago in 2015. The group, which includes Grant and partners Jim Lasky, Molly Currey, and Matt Winn, went on to develop large-scale concepts including Celestina Rooftop, Etta, Monarch and Kessaku in Scottsdale, Ariz., Culver City, Calif. and Dallas.

Café Sophie is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The venue is 2,500-square feet and seats 20, with an additional 46 seats planned for a covered, and eventually enclosed, patio to open within the month, he said. Even with Chicago's winters, he hopes the patio can be open 10 months a year.

The menu features pastries, sandwiches, salads, charcuterie and wood-fired dishes. Options include a breakfast sandwich, banana almond toast, salmon and avocado toast, a salad of kale and rotisserie chicken or one with greens, burrata and prosciutto, as well a truffle grilled cheese, focaccias, garlic shrimp and spicy meatballs.

Desserts might include French macarons one day and ricotta cheesecake the next.

The space also includes a European-style espresso/coffee bar along with selections of wine, cocktails and beer. Highlights include an ultra-high carbonation highball machine and vermouth on tap.

Along with offering great food and drinks, Grant — who was the youngest chef in the U.S. to earn two Michelin stars in both 2011 (at age 30) and 2012 — wanted to incorporate a market aspect into the venue so visitors could have a one-stop experience.

 "We wanted to provide high-quality products, high-quality food and high-quality service in a much more casual or intimate fashion," he said. "We want it to be a no-brainer to go there. It's a place you can go to any time."

The gourmet market offers pantry staples and fresh food items from around the world ranging from milk, eggs, cheese and charcuterie meats to empanadas and pierogis.

Grant selects the items he wants on the shelves and has opted for things like small batch pasta and olive oils from Italy, conservas (preserved food in cans or jars) from Spain, hot sauces, baked bread and specialty chocolates along with health and wellness items like soaps and skin care potions.

The eatery is meant to convey an Old World look with contemporary accents, Grant said.  The space has custom millwork with 12-foot wood shelving, wood-plank floors and a red oak-trimmed marble standing bar along with channeled banquets and cushioned chairs.

The wallpaper features a colorful pattern of botanical plants and birds. Antique glass mirrors and a variety of doors in different styles complete the look.

The overall emphasis is on people taking their time and enjoying the now.

"Let's just stop for a moment," he said. "I want to help people slow down for a moment and breathe."

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