ROGERS PARK — Chicago's first-ever marshmallow cafe is set to debut in Rogers Park next month.
XO Marshmallow, 6977 N. Sheridan Road, and its "Wonderland" aesthetic, will offer "pure happiness" by serving up gourmet marshmallow treats and drinks from a new Sheridan Road boutique starting July 1, co-owner Kat Connor said.
"For us the Wonderland is this really whimsical space we've created for people to come in and have a really good time," co-cowner Lindzi Shanks said. "The way I see it is, let's say it's February, and it's been snowing and you're having a really terrible day, the idea is you can come in here to the cafe and Wonderland and just not help but have a smile on your face."
The pair previously ran the business online, but after repeated requests from customers for a physical shop, they decided to take over a vacant storefront.
For marshmallow lovers, it's an edible playground.
The store features a mixture of ready-to-eat treats, customizable topping bars, hot and cold drinks and other items for sale. It has a small seating area.
Naturally gluten-free, Connor's marshmallows come in flavors like vanilla bean, raspberry, coffee Kahlua, bourbon, Champagne, and, soon, Nutella, among others.
The fluffy, flavorful squares can be bought in packs or individually. The also come in a variety of creative snacks, like the S'maco — three marshmallows stuffed into a waffle cone taco shell and drizzled with chocolate — or the OMG waffle cones, which scoops homemade marshmallow fluff into a chocolate-dipped cone and topped with sprinkles.
More of a cookie person? The donut s'more squishes a halo-shaped marshmallow between two gluten-free doughnut-decorated cookies.
The cafe will serve drinkable snacks like toasted marshmallow lattes and hot chocolate, or a frozen s'more, which combines dark roast cold brew with cocoa and marshmallows and torched OMG fluff drizzled with chocolate and graham crackers.
To create the soft, sugary squares, Connor said she whips together simple syrup and gelatin before letting them set overnight, cutting them and then tossing them with an in-house powdered sugar mix.
It's a simple, but time-consuming, process that can be surprisingly temperamental, especially when temperatures unexpectedly change, she said. It's a labor of love, she said.
Though the pair are in the midst of making Chicago marshmallow history, their journeys began in law and psychology.
A Texas Native, Shanks said her initial plan while getting her master's degree in psychology at the University of Chicago was to become a professor.
But during her studies she became engrossed in her side business and passion project, the Trendy Sparrow online boutique and blog.
Similarly, Connor's talent for marshmallow creation was serendipitously borne out of her law school days, when she was hard up for time and money.
Needing to come up with a gift on a budget and with little time to shop, Connor said she found a Mason jar recipe online to make a package of dry hot coco mix.
She soon began exploring other fun and easy ways to make edible gifts at home and wound up with her preferred medium: marshmallows.
Her work was met with fanfare and delight, she said.
"Everyone was like, 'You have to do something with this,'" Connor said. "Since I had been working so hard ... I thought, why not ... experiment with these marshmallows a little bit and see where it goes."
"And this is where it went."
Shanks and Connor launched a successful Kickstarter to help make their dreams a reality, and are now prepping a soft opening next week at their first brick-and-mortar store. Connor's father owns Midnight Mac and Cheeserie next door.
Beginning at noon Tuesday, the store will run limited hours with the hopes of getting some initial feedback from customers.
Once opened officially July 1, the store will be closed Mondays and tentatively open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. otherwise.
The pair said they're excited to finally open their doors to the public and feel confident they're in the right place to launch such a unique business.
Not only are city dwellers loyal to the foods they love, they're usually willing to try something new, Shanks said.
Chicagoans "are foodies at heart, and they love supporting local businesses, so it was this perfect amalgamation," Shanks said. "Plus, we've got these beautiful summers that are perfect for s'mores and horrible winters that are perfect for hot chocolate — so it's sort of the perfect marshmallow climate."
For those unconvinced that marshmallows merit the cafe treatment, Connor has this to say: "You think you know what a marshmallow is, but you have to try ours."
"Just take a bite, a little sample," she said. "It is different, it's not the same as the store-bought, processed, hard marshmallow that everyone's used to. These are light, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth."
Photos by Linze Rice/DNAinfo.