Don’t ever challenge Billy Corgan to the board game Scrabble.
His business partner Chloe Mendel has, and her sit-down battles versus the lead singer of The Smashing Pumpkins have been lopsided. Corgan rocks in the word game.
“He’s an amazing Scrabble player,” says Mendel, also a fashion designer of the faux fur brand Maison Atia. “Billy uses so many of his tiles, puts down big words; I usually manage to come up with three lettered words.
“It’s not fair,” adds the Highland Park mother of two.
The fare at the new Madame ZuZu’s, a Highland Park-based teashop and art studio co-owned by Corgan and Mendel and located at 1876 First Street? Affordable, plant-based comfort food, delicious salads, healthy bowls with homemade pickled vegetables, and to-ache-for grilled cheese sandwiches on locally sourced sourdough bread, among other tasty options packed with clean ingredients.
Then there’s a sea of tea choices, including French Kissed Moroccan Mint, Chamomile Rose, Vintage Hot Chocolate Aged Pu-Erh, Korean Blue Elektric Matcha, and Stimulus Hot. Chicago-based Rare Tea Cellar—founded by Highland Park native Rodrick Markus—serves as an invaluable Madame ZuZu’s partner; so does Metropolis Coffee Company.
The original Madame ZuZu’s welcomed customers at a location in the Ravinia District from 2012 to 18, its whimsical atmosphere one of many draws. It was a warm, uber-intimate setting with a seating capacity of 40. More often than not, it had to turn people away on the weekends. Madame ZuZu’s 2.0 is practically an airplane hangar in comparison. It launched its Phase 1 reopening on September 3, offering outdoor seating, takeout, and delivery.
Look for the Phase 2 reopening to take place next spring, when Corgan and Mendel intend to provide interior dining and a live venue for music and comedy performances. There will be room inside the Art Deco-laden spot for a retail store that will house records, branded ZuZu’s merchandise, curated tea wares and home goods, hand-dipped incense, and chic Maison Atia faux fur pieces.
Count on ZuZu’s to retain its whimsical ambience.
“We had wanted to grow, to expand our space, for a while,” Mendel says. “We want to be a place where young people know that they can come here on, say, a Friday night, hang out, eat healthy food, play games like Scrabble, and listen to calming music, like jazz. We’ll never play loud Top 40 songs, and we’re far from a noisy-bar scene. Billy has been very involved. He has a great vision for what we want to be, aesthetically and what we offer on our menu.
“People will find it to be a cultural hub that’s fun and relatively quiet,” she adds.
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering finds ZuZu’s indispensible to her mornings, already. She was Customer No. 1 on September 3, ordering avocado toast with cherry tomatoes and pepita seeds.
“She told us, on that first day, ‘You know, I’m going to come here for my breakfast every day,’ ” Mendel says.
Now you know why ZuZu’s official menu features Nancy’s Avo Toast.
Mendel grew up in New York City and had to adhere to a vegan, gluten-free diet at the tender age of 11. She baked up Category-5 storms in the kitchen, under the direction of her mother, Jenny.
“I loved being in the kitchen,” recalls Mendel, responsible for all baked goods (mostly vegan and gluten-free) at Madame ZuZu’s. “Chocolate chip cookies … I probably baked those first as a child.”
Mendel’s decadent tomato soup at ZuZu’s is creamy and out-of-this-world yummy, with a satinysmooth texture. It goes with a grilled cheese sandwich way better than peanut butter goes with jelly.
Among ZuZu’s other must-inhale offerings are Grandma’s Meatball Sandwich, cashew yogurt parfait, three-grain porridge, chia pudding, and nicoise salad. ZuZu’s even makes its own mayonnaise. Predominantly organic and biodynamic, ZuZu’s teas require extensive hand craftsmanship, have no synthetic oils, and boast whole ingredients with 18 teas that change seasonally.
You’ve heard of The Freshman 15, the dreaded weight gain many first-year college students incur. Now there’s The Quarantine 15. Folks other than college students have had to hit the stores for bigger clothes in Month 7 of COVID-19.
“Why not, during the pandemic, come to Madame ZuZu’s?” says Mandel, a sixth-generation fashion designer who attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Get a start on that diet? People want to get out, try something new. Madame ZuZu’s is a place for people to come together and enjoy fun, healthy food and discover the beautiful world of fine teas.
“We’re also here to create jobs and support the community.”
Madame ZuZu’s is located at 1876 First Street in Highland Park. Hours of operation: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Sunday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call 847-926-7359 or visit madamezuzus.com.