ROGERS PARK — The store front left behind when The Growling Rabbit moved to Edgewater will soon be home to restaurants serving international breakfasts, customized mac and cheese and gourmet marshmallows.
Husband and wife Antony van Zyl and Antonia Connor, Evanston residents who own Wired Coffeehouse, are taking over the vacant 6981 N. Sheridan Road store and a former hair salon next door with plans to open multiple businesses that will involve seven members of their family.
"They're all grown children, so for me it's kind of nice because I get to spend time with them," van Zyl said. "The way that we run things we're really like a second home, so everyone's family. We try to make everyone feel like they're coming home for a while."
A cafe and coffee shop called Nibbles and Nosh will offer international breakfasts and midday bites from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on one side of the L-shaped space, while the other will be transformed into a formal dining area that will be used for prix fixe pop-up dinners on Friday and Saturday nights.
Those meals will feature a sampling of chefs from around the city and country, possibly even farther, van Zyl said.
The cafe side will also feature a "pay-it-forward" board where customers can buy items in advance for others, a concept van Zyl used at a former location he plans to continue in Rogers Park.
From 4 p.m-2 a.m., the kitchen will serve customizable macaroni and cheese to-go or for delivery as part of another business called Midnight Mac and Cheesery.
Customers with a late-night craving can add toppings like Buffalo chicken, lobster, steak, tofu and more to a gooey base of cheesy goodness.
Law school graduate and daughter Kathryn Connor-van Zyl's end of the business, XO Marshmallow, will operate next door.
The retail shop will offer unique gourmet flavored marshmallows, as well as specialty drinks and a small seating area.
Van Zyl said he expects to be serving macaroni first beginning in early April, with Nibbles and Nosh and XO Marshmallow following shortly after.
The couple's four daughters and son pitch-in part-time with their parents manning the business.
And, as a 20-year customer of the Growling Rabbit and its predecessors, van Zyl said he knows how a coffee shop can come to feel like a second home itself.
He hopes to connect with new customers and build neighborhood regulars with his new ventures.
"That's a very important element ... is making sure people who come there aren't just coming to get a cup of coffee and then go on with their busy lives, but to feel comfortable and stay," he said.
The businesses also give van Zyl a chance to showcase some of his South African roots, like with a South African food-themed international breakfast.
Van Zyl sought refuge in the United States in the 1980s after speaking out on apartheid. Thereafter, he met his wife, an Italian New Yorker who "won him over completely."
"I've been here for 30 years," van Zyl said. "So I'm more Chicagoan than I am South African, but I cling tightly to my roots."