ROGERS PARK — On the heels of celebrating four years in the Rogers Park neighborhood, The Growling Rabbit owner Laura Soncrant says she's looking to expand so she can serve a bigger brunch and add a pub to the existing cafe and restaurant on Morse Avenue.
To do it, she'll need the public's help.
Soncrant set up a Kickstarter campaign online to help raise her $75,000 goal ($150,000 stretch goal) in order to finance a kitchen with improved equipment, a bar and liquor license and a new coffee bar. The additional $75,000 would help fund expenses for ventilation and safety equipment, a security system, furniture, lighting and more, she said.
Since creating the campaign last week, she's already raised just over $5,500 from 30 backers in the community.
"I'm just so grateful and honored, I mean, this is hard-earned money, I know how hard it is to earn a dollar and the fact that everyone's willing to [help], it's very cool," Soncrant said.
Though Soncrant moved into the spot at 6918 N. Sheridan Road a few years ago, she said her current space can at times provide some limitations. Because she rents the space, she said using money from the Kickstarter to buy her own equipment would give her the autonomy and freedom she needs to become the full-fledged neighborhood "brunch pub" she's dreamed of.
It would also allow her to provide benefits to her employees, all of which already make above minimum wage, she said.
She said her vision for a bigger business plan didn't arise from a giddy daydream thinking to own a bar would be "fun," but rather that she's crunched the numbers, taken customer feedback and longs to plant deeper roots in the community — all signs pointing to opening another shop.
While she said her business had seen impressive profits each year since opening, it came at the expense of paying herself.
With a 4-year-old son at home, she said she's ready to take Growling Rabbit to the next level.
"If you say it, it'll happen," she said of her campaign. "You've got to hold your head high — my mama taught me to hold my head high — and say it's gonna happen."
If she were to expand into a larger space, she says she could then offer some of her weekend specials, like chicken and waffles, to be served more often — this time with a cold brew.
Weekend brunch specials, like sweet potato chicken and waffles, could become part of the new menu if Soncrant's Kickstarter campaign funds a new space. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
She's eyeing an empty storefront at 1218 W. Morse, a strip just east of the Morse Red Line station, down the block from other upcoming developments slugged for the street like a new 45-unit apartment building and parking garage owned by Col. Jennifer Pritzker's Tawaini Enterprises and recently approved by Ald. Joe Moore (49th).
For Soncrant, who "sleeps in Evanston but lives in Rogers Park," a brunch pub is a far cry from her humble beginnings selling baked goods once a week in Evanston and Rogers Park with her commercial kitchen business, Sweet Attila's, that she opened on what would have been her late father's 59th birthday in 2010.
She was inspired to take up the hobby as a means to cope with the loss after her father died of heart disease at the age of 58.
When choosing a name for the business, Soncrant said she remembered a day back in 2007 when she'd gone to her dad with a problem involving one of her employees.
"He said, 'Ladybug, you are just a honey bunny at heart but this person sees you as Attila the Hun. If you can combine these two personalities you will stay true to yourself and be a better manager,'” Soncrant said.
After that day, Soncrant, who was working in her original field as a landscape architect at the time, said her dad encouraged her to get a pet rabbit. She got two.
The two rabbits became known in her house as Attila the Hunny Bunny and Deputy Kallie, who often goes by "the growling rabbit."
After his death, she said she felt compelled to leave behind the career she'd known, and trade it in for a future guided by the thing that deep down really made her happy: Cooking for others.
"I really just needed to do something with my life knowing life was short," she said. "You gotta have fun, you gotta love what you're doing, and at the time I just wasn't — so I started baking cookies, which is what I really wanted to do."
The Growling Rabbit's exterior facade facing Sheridan. If the owner's online campaign is funded, she said she is eyeing a spot at 1218 W. Morse Ave. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Once Sweet Attila's evolved into a cafe, she said they decided to rebrand as The Growling Rabbit, finding "Attila" was difficult for some customers to pronounce.
Now, after four years, a sidewalk patio and one bright neon green dining room later, Soncrant says she wants to give back to the neighborhood that has given her so much the only way she knows how: Homemade dishes "cooked with happy" each time.
"People can tell the difference," she said.
Soncrant said she was grateful for all of the support she had received so far and was looking forward to the day when she could open a new set of doors to the public.
Until then, she plans to keep hopping along.
Regardless of what happens in the future, she said The Growling Rabbit had been a success to her because it served as a symbol in honor of her father's life and their bond.
"It shows just how amazing this community is, but also just truly how much spirit my dad has in this place, like I think [customers] are sent in here for a reason," she said. "To say, 'No Ladybug, you just keep doin' it. You're doin' a good job.' So that's where it all comes from."
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