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Bad Wolf Coffee's Baker Taking Over Shop, Will Open Loba Pastry + Coffee

By Janet Rausa Fuller | November 19, 2015 6:03am

Val Ballado (r.) , who worked at Bad Wolf Coffee, will open Loba Pastry + Coffee with partner Coyote DeGroot in the Lincoln Ave. storefront. [DNAinfo Chicago/Janet Rausa Fuller]

LAKEVIEW — When Bad Wolf Coffee's Jonathan Ory decided to leave town, taking his caneles and kouign-amann with him, he didn't have to look far to find someone to move into the shop at 3422 N. Lincoln Ave.

Val Ballado, who finagled her way into a job baking with Ory — by asking if she could, and then showing up early the next morning ready to go — will start serving coffee and pastries there in early December.

Her shop, Loba Pastry + Coffee, is a nod to what came before it. Loba is Spanish for "she-wolf," she said.

"I wanted to have some kind of continuity without people thinking it's the same thing, because it's not," said Ballado, who has a two-year lease at the storefront.

Among the ways Loba will be different: There will be chairs. (Ory famously kept seats and Wi-Fi out, opting for one communal standing table.) There will be cream for customers to add to their coffee as they wish. (Ory didn't offer any.) There will be tea from New York's In Pursuit of Tea and Kyoto-style cold-brew coffee.

The cafe will feature harder-to-find beans mostly from out-of-town roasters, said her business partner, Coyote DeGroot, who owns Labrabbit Optics, a super-hip eyewear boutique in Ukrainian Village.

With the city's other coffee shops doing so much in-house roasting, that "leaves a void in terms of availability of certain products," DeGroot said.

"The coffee is not going to take a back seat to the pastries," Ballado said.

Now, about those pastries: Ballado plans to sell both savory and sweet goods, including tarragon sables, ginger molasses cookies, pumpkin Danish, and other pastries drawing on her Mexican background.

One burning question: Will she sell caneles or kouign-amann, the two French pastries that put Ory on the culinary map in Chicago and beyond?

"Savory kouign-amann," she said, but that's as far as she'll go.

"His caneles were the best around. Now I can see what everybody else did wrong. At other places, it's more like a Bundt cake. None of them have that crunch that Jonathan's had," she said.

Ory, in turn, said Ballado's sables "are some of the tastiest things ever."

"She's got a lot of drive. She's got some chops," said Ory, now leading development of a food hall in Charleston, S.C. that will include a version of Bad Wolf.

The old Bad Wolf Coffee at 3422 N. Lincoln Ave. is slated to open in early December as Loba Pastry + Coffee. [DNAinfo Chicago/Janet Rausa Fuller]

Ballado, 27, doesn't have a culinary degree but has worked in various pastry jobs, both paid and unpaid, around town, starting in 2010 as the morning pastry intern at Blackbird under then-pastry chef Patrick Fahy.

She baked at Coco Pazzo, worked the garde manger station at Sprout and did a little of everything at Trenchermen.

"Chef Pat [Sheerin] helped me not be afraid of the burner," she said of her yearlong stint there in 2013. "That was my first time working with breads like brioche. I learned how to laminate [dough], to make the morning pastries. I realized how little I knew about the basics of pastry."

But by last year, feeling burned out, the Humboldt Park resident had left the industry and was working an office job in project management for a software company.

"The pay was great. The hours were great. I had vacation, benefits. I hadn't had weekends off solidly for such a long time. It was weird," she said.

Last fall, on a Friday off of work, Ballado walked into Bad Wolf. She'd heard about Ory's pastries from a barista friend and wanted to try them, so she ordered one of each and a coffee.

"And I said, 'I'd like to stage here.' And Jonathan was like, 'Oh, cool. No,' " she said, laughing. "I said, 'So I'll see you here tomorrow at, what, 5?'"

She showed up at 4 a.m.

Ory laughed, too, remembering their initial exchange. "It was a couple of 'nos,'" he said.

Ballado worked both jobs, in the office during the week and at the coffee shop on the weekends, until early this year, when she quit the former so she could help Ory three days a week at Bad Wolf.

DeGroot, her business partner, was a frequent customer at Bad Wolf who has what he calls a "near-pathological" interest in Chicago's food scene.

When he heard that Ory was leaving and Ballado wanted to take over the shop and needed a partner, "the timing was perfect. I'd been wanting to branch out of my current industry into something new," he said. (He's not leaving the optical business, though.)

While Ballado focuses on the pastry, DeGroot will handle the rest — "strategy, PR, chit-chat, bookkeeping, research, design." He lives in Roscoe Village, not far from the shop.

For Ballado, opening Loba fulfills a longtime goal.

"I didn't want to be a fancy pastry chef," she said. "What I've always wanted was to own my own bakery."

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