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Baker Ana Katsenios on Fundraising Push to Open Paper Moon Pastry

By Janet Rausa Fuller | February 6, 2014 7:40am
 Ana Katsenios is trying to open her bakery, Paper Moon Pastry, in Logan Square.
Paper Moon Pastry
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LOGAN SQUARE — There are pink marshmallows and hard candies glued to the walls inside the storefront at 3523 W. Fullerton Ave. It's the work of Ana Katsenios, who wants to make her future bakery look like a gingerbread house.

But the sweets don't hold up that well. If you look closely, you can see they're dull, crooked, a little dirty, and so Katsenios has to rip them off and start over.

Moxie and a hot glue gun — this has defined Katsenios' struggle to get her business off the ground.

"Naively optimistic is something you just have to be," she said.

The former hotel pastry chef has a name for her bakery: Paper Moon Pastry. She has the skills and the (mostly vegan) goods: chewy cookies as big as salad plates, mini-pot pies, "fauxstess" chocolate cupcakes. For two years, she's had the lease on the storefront.

Katsenios, 34, just doesn't have the money she needs — ideally, $25,000 — to finish rehabbing the storefront and officially open the doors. So she's launched an Indiegogo campaign, which ends on Feb. 23. She's raised nearly $1,600 so far.

She also recently started hosting weekend pop-up markets selling her treats as well as those of other small vendors — and not just food, but clothing, jewelry and art. The next market is Saturday and Sunday.

"I have operated off of blind faith, but I feel like it's time to make that push," she said. "At this point, I think everyone in my family is just like, 'Oh my God, when are you going to open?'

"I may have to open as a retail boutique, and sell everything pre-packaged. I'll find a way. It may not be the way I want at first, but no giving up."

It would hardly be the most unconventional thing she's done. Last summer, Katsenios sold pastries to late-night barhoppers around the neighborhood, first from a tray strapped around her neck (tattooed hipster meets 1930s cigarette girl), then from a wagon she built herself.

"People called me the Cookie Lady," she said.

Owning a bakery has always been her goal. Katsenios went to culinary school in Tucson and worked in kitchens there and in the Portland area before moving back to Chicago to bake at Taxim in Wicker Park and the now-closed Bleeding Heart Bakery.

She started her business four years ago out of her apartment. Paper Moon was the name of the family-style restaurant in the northwest suburbs her dad once owned.

As Katsenios picked up wholesale customers, including the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, New Wave Coffee and Cafe Mustache, she moved into a shared commercial kitchen.

In 2012, she found the cozy, 1,000-square-foot space on Fullerton Ave. and began the arduous task of converting the old day spa into a bakery. Her dad built a wall to enclose the kitchen. She ripped out the drop ceiling and light fixtures and installed the sinks herself.

It's been a piecemeal rehab. Aside from walls to paint, Katsenios still has pastries to bake and no one to help her. She pulls frequent all-nighters and squirrels away equipment when she can.

"That's why I admire her so much," said chocolatier and fellow Logan Square resident Katherine Duncan of Katherine Anne Confections, 2745 W. Armitage Ave. "I don't think people know just how hard it is as a one-woman business. And she's so creative. The fact that she made a pastry wagon and rode it around the neighborhood — very creative."

About that wagon: Katsenios was a vendor at the Logan Square Night Market last summer. Thus began the late-night pastry peddling at neighborhood bars where she knew the staff, so that whatever she didn't sell at the farmers market wouldn't go to waste.

"People were confused by it at first. They would ask, 'Are they drug cookies?' " Katsenios said.

While the "portable bakery" was fun and quirky enough to bring in decent dough, it cost her some wholesale clients. Katsenios just couldn't keep up.

"Her brownies and bars are great. People still ask for them, but no way could she meet the demand, or even deliver at a certain time," said Dana Norden, buyer at the Dill Pickle Co-Op, which sold her pastries for three years until about four months ago.

"She makes an awesome muffin," said Ralph Darski, co-owner of Cafe Mustache. But she wasn't "as consistent as we'd like her to be in terms of getting here," he said.

"That's exactly right," Katsenios said. "I was overwhelmed. That's what this is all about. With the correct resources, I can fix these problems and just focus."

"I'm hopeful," Norden responded. "She really is a hustler in the good sense of that word."

With the pastry wagon grounded for the winter, Katsenios is focused on the Indiegogo fundraiser and the pop-up markets at the storefront.

This weekend's market is vegan and valentine-themed and will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. both days. Cookbook author and blogger Natalie Slater will sign books and do a cooking demo. There will be vegan truffles from Katherine Anne Confections, gluten-free macarons from Bot Bakery and smoothies from Vert; jewelry from Tarnish; clothes from Lovesick Vintage, and stationery from Katie Holland, among others.

If — or when — Katsenios opens Paper Moon Pastry, she said she'd like to keep this boutique-within-a-bakery format to showcase other people's stuff as well as her own.

"I feel so connected to the idea of the struggling entrepreneur, the outside-the-box small vendor," she said. "I want to celebrate that."

Right now, her struggle doesn't exactly feel like a party. Still, she said with the slightest shrug, "I undeniably believe I will succeed. I make the best product."