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Lincoln Park bakery puts gourmet pies on Englewood tables for Thanksgiving

Vanille Patisserie partners with the community group I Grow Chicago to distribute holiday desserts to families in need.

Vanille Patisserie owner Sophie Evanoff racks pies made for giving away next week in Englewood.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

One bakery in Lincoln Park is doing its part this Thanksgiving to share a piece of the pie with residents of the Englewood neighborhood.

Now through Sunday night at 11:59 pm, orders for Vanille Patisserie’s one-of-a-kind holiday pies will contribute directly to a give-back program that ensures Englewood families are able to set their tables with the decadent desserts, too.

For every 10 pies sold — options include Pumpkin with Cinnamon Whipped Cream, Apple Streusel, Traditional Pecan, Nutella French Silk and Apricot and Cranberry Walnut Streusel Pie (ranging from $24.95 to $32.95) — Vanille will donate one pie to a family in need. Customers can also “sponsor” pies for the program as well with discounted rates of 2 pies for $40, 4 pies for $75 or 6 pies for $100.

It’s all through an exclusive partnership with I Grow Chicago (www.igrowchicago.org), a not-for-profit servicing a 25-block radius within the Englewood neighborhood that has a mission to grow the community from surviving to thriving through connection, job opportunity and skill building — and has been providing resources for residents throughout COVID-19.

“We have committed to providing pies for 250 families, and we are very excited to be halfway there with a great response to the program,” says Vanille Patisserie owner Sophie Evanoff, a trained French pastry chef who led Vanille to be recognized as one of the best bakeries in America by Time Out Magazine in 2016.

Every year around this time Evanoff would donate treats to a community dinner in the Little Village neighborhood, “but this year, because there are no formal dinners happening with COVID-19, we weren’t sure what to do,” she says. “One of the reasons we were so fortunate to even keep our doors open in the beginning of the pandemic is that we did meals for health care workers, and customers were sponsoring meals for this purpose, which kept our team working. So we figured let’s do the same for pies this year; it’s a win-win situation.”

Evanoff put out a message on her personal Facebook page looking for a charity partner doing meal giveaways to team up with. A connection happened to be on the board of I Grow Chicago, “and we thought it was a great fit,” says Evanoff.

I Grow Chicago, too, had been trying to figure out how to navigate providing Thanksgiving meals for families during this year’s health crisis. Usually there would be a communal holiday dinner in the organization’s Peace House (6402 S. Honore St). The house is a focal point of I Grow’s Peace Campus, which transforms vacant lots and abandoned buildings into community centers where residents can find resources for legal aid, SNAP assistance and wellness programs such as yoga and meditation.

Pumpkin pie with cinnamon whipped cream is one of the Thanksgiving desserts offered by Vanille Patisserie
Provided

This year’s plan is to host turkey giveaways on Monday at the Peace House along with mobile COVID testing through a partnership with St. Bernard Hospital; as well, LED light bulbs will be distributed through ComEd on this date. On Wednesday, the organization will distribute Thanksgiving hot meals along with the pies from Vanille Patisserie at the Peace House, and families that are homebound can arrange delivery.

“Anything we do toward providing a sense of caring, compassion and assistance is well received and takes a lot of pressure off these families around the holidays,” says I Grow Chicago director of programming Ken Johnson, who notes that over 62 percent of Englewood residents face food insecurity and there’s a 72 percent joblessness rate, while a staggering 15 percent of residents do not have access to fresh water. “We’re not talking about a developing country, we are talking about a neighborhood in Chicago that is 15 minutes from downtown and a stone’s throw from the University of Chicago. … So to have a bakery in Lincoln Park that cares about the Englewood community shows a true sense of caring to reach out and assist us in this way.”

Ken Johnson of I Grow Chicago poses at the Peace House, where pies and other holiday food items will be distributed Wednesday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

For Evanoff, whose team has tried to find the levity in 2020 with Dr. Fauci Stud Muffin cupcakes and toilet paper-shaped quarantined cakes, she sees her bakery as a way to keep happiness afloat. “The tradition of having a birthday cake or picking up holiday pies is the same in a pandemic or not,” she says. “We want to make sure we are creating that happiness and moments of joy so it still feels the same in this weird year.”

Vanille Patisserie is taking orders at www.vanillechicago.com for delivery or pickup at its locations in Lincoln Park (2108 N. Clark Street), Hyde Park Produce (1226 E. 53rd Street) or The French Market (131 N. Clinton).

Selena Fragassi is a Chicago freelance writer.