RAVENSWOOD — Sweet Virginia's Kitchen, coming soon to Ravenswood, is betting that plenty of folks would love to sit down to a good old home-cooked meal, if only they didn't have to cook the meal, at home.
The restaurant, aiming for a November opening at 5131 N. Damen Ave., will feature chef/owner Angie Wines' made-from-scratch take on classics like meatballs and key lime pie, campfire chicken legs and cinnamon rolls, turkey chili and chocolate chip cookies.
It's the kind of food Wines learned to cook at the elbow of her grandmother, Virginia Shields, and has been earning praise for at dinner parties long enough for friends to encourage her to turn her passion into a profession.
Sweet Virginia's will be a family-run affair, with Wines in charge of the kitchen and her partner Anneliese Moy running the front of the house. Asked what her job would be, their daughter Sophia replied: "Eating."
"She's so excited," Wines said of the 8-year-old. "She's always asking, 'Are we doing this?'"
Improbably, yes, they are.
Wines was plugging along as an office manager, content to cook in her spare time, when she lost her job in 2014.
As she assessed her career options, a friend posed the question: "Why are you in an office and not a kitchen?" Wines recalled.
"I just decided to take a chance and go in a different direction," she said.
She started a catering company that proved so successful, Wines quickly outgrew her home kitchen.
A restaurant was the next logical step and Wines received a major push in that direction when a friend tipped her off about the storefront on Damen.
"When I walked through the door, I just had this feeling. It just felt right," Wines said.
Moy, who runs a private social work practice after 15 years in the public sector, fully backed the leap.
"Kudos to Anneliese," Wines said. "I went home and told her and she didn't think twice."
Though the building previously housed a restaurant, in order to make the place their own, Wines and Moy are overseeing a major makeover.
They handpicked a truckload of reclaimed wood and have gone antique hunting as far afield as Canada in search of vintage kitchen items.
"We're upcycling cheese graters and colanders into light fixtures," Wines said. "I want to give it that feel of being in my grandma's house."
The titular Virginia herself is even contributing to the decor, making hand-drawn recipe cards that will dot the walls of the restaurant that bears her name.
A Kickstarter campaign, launched this week, will help the couple purchase major equipment, like a bona fide smoker.
"I want to move my smoking operation indoors, and smokers are expensive," Wines explained.
Barring any delays or surprises with the inspection process, Wines is hoping to be open sometime in November, just in time to fry up some fall doughnuts.
Her plan is for a fast-casual approach to breakfast and lunch, with customers welcome to either grab and go or set up camp with their laptops.
She envisions dinner service as slightly more elevated, with a wait staff and a menu of house-made cocktail mixers to go with customers' BYO alcohol.
All that could change based on customer feedback, said Wines, who is prepared to be flexible.
Acknowledging that there has been turnover at the Damen location, Wines emphasized that she and Moy want Sweet Virginia's Kitchen to become a fixture in the community.
Even before opening, they treated teachers at nearby Amundsen High School and Chappell Elementary to breakfast.
"We're humbled by all the people who've gotten us to this point," Wines said. "We want to give back."
Some of home-cooked deliciousness coming to Sweet Virginia's Kitchen. [Kickstarter]
A major makeover is underway at Sweet Virginia's Kitchen. [Kickstarter]
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