When Adam Friedberg of Brand & Company and Elizabeth Madden of Rare Bird Preserves combined forces to found River Forest Kitchen this summer, they shared a vision of what the commercial kitchen space could mean for small business entrepreneurs in the near western suburbs. Friedberg saw a need in the community from the real estate perspective, and Madden knew from her own personal experience how much a vital commercial space could make a difference for artisanal chefs.
"When I first started Rare Bird," Madden said, "I knew I wanted to work in a shared kitchen. I found I liked working with others. You can share expenses and bounce ideas off each other. So many questions come up when you're starting your own business. It's great to have a peer group right there."
Since its July opening, River Forest Kitchen has provided commercial space for many local chefs and small business owners.
This holiday season, Friedberg and Madden are hosting what they hope is the first in a series of markets. Their inaugural Thanksgiving Market takes place this Saturday, Nov. 14 from noon until 4 p.m. at 349 Ashland Ave. in River Forest.
The market concept
"Since the inception of River Forest Kitchen," said Friedberg, "we've always envisioned the space being a place for French Market-style events for the artisans who use our space."
Madden, whose line of specialty preserves has been selling well, said that a local market like this one has long been a dream.
"I've participated in markets before," she said, "and now we're creating our own. It's exciting for me because I've participated in so many and always had so many ideas about a market. This is sort of my dream market. Even though my preserves are jarred and can be stored, I'm very sensitive to people who come to market and need to sell their food items immediately. It's not ideal to make a lot of muffins or cookies that don't sell that day."
The Thanksgiving Market event will eliminate some of the instability for the vendors. Vendors ranging from custom soup maker Karl Bader to florist Emily Ruby will create samples for customers to sample and view. The vendors will take pre-orders, and customers will be able to set up a one-stop pickup time for items at River Forest Kitchen in the days preceding Thanksgiving.
The market concept may be ideal for food vendors who cook and create on an individualized basis, but Madden and Friedberg think it is also ideal for customers. If someone comes in looking for a one-stop Thanksgiving shop, they can pre-order an entire meal, complete with a turkey from Oak Park's Carnivore, along with side dishes, pies, soups and centerpieces. Those who don't need an entire meal or are traveling for the holiday will also find plenty of options.
"Even if you love to cook," said Madden, "you can supplement with Karl's soup or just pick out pies. Pastiche Florals will offer centerpieces, and they will also offer orchids for hostess gifts."
The market will feature a variety of vendors, including Karl's Craft Soups, Carnivore Oak Park, Blue Sky Bakery & Cafe, Betty Plum Toffee, Victory Dance Foods, and Ruth and Phil's Ice Cream. The artisanal food offerings will cover all aspects of a Thanksgiving dinner. Madden points out that the flavors found in Karl Bader's smoky pumpkin bisque or in Ruth and Phil's cinnamon sour cream ice cream are easy ways to elevate a traditional dinner.
While Madden helped plan the event, she also will wear her chef's hat during the market.
"I'm partnering with Tracy of Provenance Food and Wine to include Rare Bird Preserves on cheese and charcuterie platters," she said. "We will include all of the items you need for a variety of platters, and a photo suggesting how to style the platter. Customers can pick up all the items, and use the photos to help arrange everything on their own platter. That way, the planning is all done for you, and you don't need to fuss over it."
Emily Ruby of Pastiche Floral is excited about this opportunity. "River Forest Kitchen is a needed resource in our community for small entrepreneurship. This is my second year doing Thanksgiving centerpieces. Last year, I did it out of my house, but this will be easier to manage. I love the idea that I can have a space like this that is communal. I'm a people person, so it's great to share space."
Ruby will be creating centerpieces with everything from wild roses to millet, bay leaves and kale and will also offer orchids for hostess gifts.
Annie Dwyer, a River Forest resident who works with River Forest Kitchen on their creative designs, said all of the vendors bring something of value to the market.
"One of our passions is that we want to showcase local talent," Dwyer said, "and we also want to bring in people who might be new to our community. For the Thanksgiving Market, we are bringing in Polly Gaza of Chicago Raw. I feel like there's a big hole in River Forest for holistic, allergy-free vendors, and her stuff is really amazing."
She is also enthusiastic about bringing Forest Park's Blue Max coffee to the Thanksgiving Market.
"Terry at Blue Max is a great treasure for our community," said Dwyer. "He treats the coffee like wine in terms of flavors and nuances. Blue Max roasts their own beans for coffee and uses a lot of organic ingredients in their baked goods. We tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to participate."
Lauren Mandel, marketing manager for River Forest Kitchen, said all of the participants in the market bring something to the near west suburbs that is important to both vendors and the community.
"River Forest Kitchen is all about community," she noted. "It was founded to give artisan chefs a sense of community and a way to connect with others who are passionate about their craft. Thanksgiving Market gives them a chance to share their goods and meet people who are excited about the same things. A lot of markets like this exist in the city, but it's unique for the suburbs. It's a fun way to spend the day with friends or family and explore some things they might not otherwise discover."
Information and updates about Thanksgiving Market can be found on their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/904219482994671/