ROGERS PARK — Less than four months after opening as a small take-out and delivery-only walk-up counter, the demand for cheesy goodness at Midnight Mac and Cheeserie has exploded so much that the store's owner said it's costing him his other business.
The 6981 N. Sheridan Road restaurant is owned by Antony van Zyl and was originally part of van Zyl's two-fold design for his business: during the morning and early afternoon his dining room would operate as Nibbles and Nosh, an international café. Then, from the late afternoon and late into the night, he would transition into an adjacent smaller space, which would sling out custom orders of macaroni and cheese.
But since the mac and cheese joint's late-May debut, van Zyl said its popularity has grown to the point its overtaken the breakfast business.
"The Mac and Cheeserie came out of left field and and just exploded," he said. "It is still growing and we are basically running flat out to keep up with it."
The restaurant's very first day may have been an indication of what was to come: it "sold out of everything" within the first few hours of opening its door to a line wrapped down the block.
After that, van Zyl temporarily shut down to re-tool, hire more help and eventually opened the Nibbles and Nosh dining room at night to accommodate more customers and those who wished to dine in.
Still, he said, it wasn't enough to meet his hungry customers' demands.
Van Zyl said while his original belief that the restaurant would mostly cater to a younger audience, including capturing the business of Loyola students, has proven true, there has also been a forceful presence from locals and families who have pushed for expansion.
"I had envisioned the Mac and Cheeserie as a takeout and delivery space only," he said. "It is the locals who pushed for dining in options and are driving our expansion... we have seen a large response from families with children."
The short-lived Nibbles and Nosh served its final meal last week.
The spirit of his eclipsed breakfast business will still remain, however, in coffees, teas and other morning drinks that will be available throughout the day. The shop will also have wireless internet for customers to use, and may offer a breakfast buffet on weekends.
Van Zyl said the macaroni diner's skyrocketing popularity was good news from a business standpoint, but "on a personal level" the fact it overshadowed another important dream of his was "bittersweet."
"When I first rented the space it was with every intent to put in a breakfast lunch coffee shop, one where we could go all out on weekends with brunch and build a nice comfy place for people to have a bite and a cup of really good coffee during the week," he said. "Everything we did was focused on Nibbles and Nosh being the primary."
Starting Monday, Midnight Mac and Cheeserie will take over both storefronts and expand its hours into lunchtime beginning at 11 a.m. with new specials being developed. It will still close at 2 a.m. and is BYOB.
Several Rogers Park families also helped van Zyl develop a $25 early dinner deal between 3-6 p.m., which includes a pan of mac and cheese with two add-ins.
Those feeling particularly ravenous and confident can also partake in the restaurant's food challenge: consuming a 5 pound try of mac and cheese in under an hour. The meal is free if finished in time, or $35 for the attempt.