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Lost Larson: Brother and sister bring ‘bakery culture’ to city

Behind Andersonville’s buzzworthy bakery and cafe, Lost Larson, is a brother and sister team.

Chef-owner Bobby Schaffer may be the name to watch for food industry insiders, but the bakery’s success wouldn’t be possible without his kid sister and General Manager Bree Schaffer.

Bree, 25, is seven years younger than her brother Bobby and they didn’t always get along.

“He was my mortal enemy. He was incredibly mean to me. But I always looked up to him the most,” said Bree. There are two other older Schaffer siblings, Mike and Emily, and Bree was the baby of the family. “Bobby’s the middle child, so he was always the problem kid.”

Growing up in Western Springs and LaGrange, Bobby always seemed to have a “mind of his own” and a way of veering “off the beaten path,” like studying abroad in high school, which Bree admired.

Bobby’s courage and tenacity would eventually lead him to study under a master chocolatier in Spain and become head pastry chef of Michelin-starred restaurants Grace in Chicago (shuttered in 2017) and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York.

And it was Bobby who pulled his sister into restaurant life. Bree spent college breaks and summers as a food runner at Grace, eventually becoming a service bartender learning about mixology and the finest coffee and tea. She “fell in love with it” and takes great care of the cafe’s beverage program.

The two knew they wanted to open up a place together and, after a year and half of looking for the right space and neighborhood, they ended up in Andersonville. It seemed like fate for several reasons.

For one, they had Scandinavian roots, which befit the historical Swedish neighborhood. The bakery’s name refers to the discovery that their last name “Schaffer” should really be “Larson.” The bakery’s logo features a Nordic face mask, representing loss of identity while acknowledging that it can be molded how the siblings see fit.

The sign outside Lost Larson in Andersonville. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Plus, a literal vacancy existed in Andersonville when Lost Larson opened in June 2018. The year prior, the neighborhood’s beloved Swedish Bakery closed after an 88-year run.

“There’s no real bakery culture in Chicago like in San Francisco and New York,” added Bree. “Some bakeries are tourist destinations. That doesn’t exist in Chicago, so we have this vacancy and opportunity.”

There are nods to the traditional like the supremely divine duchess cake, limpa rye bread, cardamom buns and Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches with a twist, but the bakery is forging its own path with a modern take on the traditional and a commitment to unparalleled quality.

“All of our products use Midwest whole grains in them, even the pastries and croissants, which adds great flavor to the products, but also makes them a bit healthier,” said Bobby. “I personally don’t like overly sweet desserts; everything has to have some balance, so you won’t find anything with a ton of sugar at bakery.”

Fresh-baked pastries at Lost Larson Bakery. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times

Making artisan breads and pastries fresh daily is an arduous craft that takes skill, knowledge and attention to detail. The various breads and croissants take 36 hours of work before reaching the ovens. The chocolate croissant has close to 50 flaky, delicate layers.

“We deal with living products, undergoing fermentation, most often with natural yeasts, so as a baker you have to attend to a ‘starter’ which is fed twice a day. There’s all this working knowledge you have to possess,” said Bobby. “It’s a labor of love for sure.”

So far, the siblings’ devotion to the neighborhood, their craft and each other seems to be paying off.

“It’s kind of a utopia. We have so many regulars, I know so many people by name,” said Bree. “Bobby and I are both gay and this is a very queer community, and it just feels nice to be surrounded by accepting people. It’s pretty diverse and it feels homey.”

“It’s great — she has all the skills to run the front of house, making perfect lattes and chatting with our customers,” said Bobby. “I enjoy that I get to spend almost every day with her.”

Lost Larson is located at 5318 N. Clark Avenue, (773) 944-0587.