100% momma-owned in a male-dominated industry
Insights from Laura Soncrant, The Growling Rabbit (Edgewater)
This one’s not just 100% woman-owned, it’s also 100% momma-owned. Laura Soncrant owns The Growling Rabbit, a bustling restaurant in Edgewater. Laura knows how unfortunately uncommon it is for women to own their own restaurants in Chicago. And she pays it forward to the women in her own community by employing a kitchen staff that is predominantly female in an industry that is predominantly male.
The best part of our visit was hearing about how she got her start. She was inspired to start the business when her father died unexpectedly at age 58. In her own words: “Life is short, and to know that there’s so much more to life, that I was truly unhappy doing what I was doing… I just started baking cookies because everyone told me that’s what I was good at.” And so, she started selling her cookies at farmers’ markets. (Yep, this full-service brunch, lunch, & dinner joint started out as cookies at a farmers’ market.) The cookies were so good, that demand started to outweigh supply, and she decided to open a storefront. Three months after she became a mother, and on the day that her dad would have turned 59, The Growling Rabbit had its debut.
Few can imagine what it’s like for your first year as a mother to be your first year as a business owner as well. From her perspective, “being a woman-owned, mother-owned business is probably my [most unique] challenge, but also my biggest blessing.” In that first year, she brought her son to work every day. (We just happened to visit on a Friday that school was out, and got to see him enjoy chocolate chip pancakes and bacon delivered from the kitchen.) Discussing that first year, Laura said, “I didn’t know anything about being a mother, and I didn’t know anything about being a business owner, so, you know, we just kind of went through the days together, and I don’t know it any other way. It was normal. It was like what our normal is supposed to be.”
At that moment, her son, hearing his mom talk about him, leaned over and whispered in her ear. Laura let us in on the secret: “he just said that spending all the days with me is good.”
The Growling Rabbit has become a part of the Edgewater community, and Laura really values the role that her restaurant plays in people’s lives. Just consider why they’ve become known for their vegan baked goods. Laura traces her decision to serve amazing vegan food back to two people. First, a new mom. This new mom in the neighborhood was vegetarian, breastfeeding, and told that her newborn couldn’t have dairy or eggs. Suddenly, she was vegan. The mother panicked, not knowing how to eat a vegan diet, and immediately turned to Laura for help. Her response? “I got this.” And then, there’s the little boy who Laura has known since he was three who is deathly allergic to dairy. “He comes in, and he can eat our coffee cake, because it’s vegan, and he can have the soy milk hot chocolate… and then he can get a cupcake and eat the frosting off the cupcake… and his mom doesn’t freak out, and he gets to be a kid. Done. I love it. That’s why we offer vegan stuff.” Laura knows what her customers want and need and has created a space that belongs to the entire community.
After hearing Laura’s story, it's hard to resist checking out The Growling Rabbit. Eating the ham and brie wafflewich topped with a perfectly fried egg is close to a spiritual experience (see below), but what really seals the deal is knowing that your brunch money isn't being funneled into just another large Chicago restaurant group. Instead, it helps keep this mom running her business, independently, creating jobs for local women in the kitchen and adding real value to our community.