RAVENSWOOD — Wanna know why restaurants have "soft" openings?
Ask Keith Lacey, co-owner of the new Eats and Sweets Cafe, 1636 W. Montrose Ave.
Tuesday morning, the cafe's scheduled debut, he got to work at 4:30 a.m. to start the day's baking, ready to fill the shop's pastry cases with cookies and cupcakes, brownies and croissants.
Patty Wetli has gone two straight days, and she previews the new neighborhood spot:
And ... the power was out.
"I said, 'OK, is this a bad omen or what?'" said Lacey. "It was only this one little block. Are you serious?"
The juice came back on an hour and a half later.
"We rushed and just knocked everything out," he said, admitting a day later he was still "hung over" from the effort.
"He was panicking," co-owner Scott Lacey said of his brother. "But he caught up."
Mercifully the first rush of customers, who started streaming in "within minutes" of the cafe's 7 a.m. open, mostly just ordered coffee. (First lesson learned: hire a second barrista.)
Twelve hours later, Scott, who will handle closing duties, was having a hard time calling it quits on Day One.
"We were still getting people until 8:30," he said, well after the cafe's posted 7 p.m. hours.
Day Two found staff — largely members of the extended Lacey family — being trained on how to make various tea concoctions and familiarizing themselves with the menu while waiting on a steady stream of customers.
"What's in the bistro sauce?" they called back to the kitchen.
"It's a family business, so family will be here," said Scott's wife Carrie Lacey, who plans on eventually contributing some baked goods — "mom stuff" — of her own.
Despite the hectic pace of getting the cafe up and running, she said she already felt comfortable in the family's new home away from home.
"It feels nice and natural ... and exciting," she said.
Keith's 13-year-old daughter Bella was getting acquainted with the cash register, which she'll have plenty of opportunity to operate over the course of her unpaid summer job.
"I think it's pretty cool," she said of the cafe. "My parents have always talked about it and now it's finally happening."
Customers like Sue Sarran, her daughter Meghan Residori and Meghan's 8-month-old child stopped in for lunch to satisfy their curiosity after weeks of watching preparations at the storefront.
"We've been peeking in the windows, wondering when it was opening," said Sarran.
Residori, a teacher at Ravenswood Elementary across the street, said she missed the cake balls at Angel Food Bakery, which formerly occupied by the space, but declared that Eats and Sweets "seems to fill the gap."
Keith Lacey has noted that Eats and Sweets isn't trying to replace Angel Food, but rather carve out its own identity as a one-stop shop for baked goods, sandwiches and coffee. Oh, and ice cream, which should be available by the weekend.
"There's not really a place like this" in the neighborhood, said Keith, a graduate of what is now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts who had partnered with Scott on a Logan Square restaurant in the late 1990s.
Keith's putting his own spin on classics like the BLT — Eats and Sweets' features duck bacon — and grilled cheese, which has a French onion soup twist.
The baked goods will rotate during the cafe's first few weeks, with sampling key to the Laceys' market research.
"What I wanted to do when we opened, I wanted to find out what the neighborhood wanted," said Keith. "We'll constantly introduce new things and see how far people are willing to go."
Among the more unique offerings: a mini doughnut cupcake that Keith intends to serve with dipping sauces.
Though Keith said he's trying not to do too much out of the gate, the Laceys are already planning on adding breakfast and brunch once they receive approval on their application for a sidewalk cafe.
They had hoped to have the outdoor seating ready by the opening, but the permit has been delayed.
"That's not our fault," said Scott. "That's the city."