I met up with Elaine Heaney, Nathaniel Meads and Jared Nance, the partners behind Fritz Pastry, a couple weeks before their grand opening to talk about a variety of topics, including why they decided now was the time to open up their own café, their history in the food industry, and who would win in a couple of dream battles of my own creation.
The question and answer session below is actually my second ever interview. The first? Takashi Shimizu. That’s right, I interviewed the director of The Grudge for NewType USA. But that was an e-mail interview where I was able to take the time to research and finesse my questions. I wasn’t sure how an on the spot interview would go. I’m not typically the kind of blog writer that enjoys seeking out and hunting down interviews. So when the opportunity arose to interview my friends for their restaurant, I thought it would be good experience for me, and a chance for them to introduce themselves to Chicago in a comfortable setting.
Let me tell you there’s nothing anything quite as entertaining as interviewing your friends.
Mike: So first question, what up?
Nathaniel: That’s a terrible first question.
M: Pretend I’m just a reporter who you’ve never met before from the most awesome foodblog ever, Two Bites in Suburbia. What’s up? How are you guys doing?
Jared: We are good. What’s up with you?
M: How are you doing, Elaine?
E: This better not be on your podcast. I freeze when the redlight is on.
M: This place looks unrecognizable from when I saw it a few weeks ago. How are things coming along?
E: I think things are coming along well. We’re working, and working, and sleeping and more working. But it’s fun!
N: Man, things are going great!
M: What made you decide to open up your own place? Was it always a goal?
E: I think it’s always been a goal for all of us, but definitely for Nate and I. We’ve been married almost ten years, and it’s always been more like a dream. After working long days and long hours we finally wanted to work those long days and long hours for ourselves.
J: I think we were all at a common point in our lives. We were all ready for something new to happen, and it just worked out. I think we all supply a different piece to the puzzle, so I think it works between the three of us.
N: For me, it was more the long nights I was working. I was going to be doing something like this my whole life. Now Elaine and I will be able to see each other, and work next to each other.
J: Also, I feel the same way about Elaine. Sorry, Nate, I didn’t want you to find out like this.
N: (Laughs while biting into his bagel)
M: She is pretty lovable.
M: And where did the name Fritz Pastry come from?
N: That’s my grandpa! Frederick “Fritz” Schoch. He’s from Germany. His family sent him over (to America) on a boat when he was seventeen. He was a baker’s apprentice in Germany before coming over here. And once he was here, I don’t think he ever did any cooking…
E: He did when he went into the army.
N: He was a cook in the army! That’s right! He was rad. Was that a good answer?
M: It was! That was a really good answer.
M: So, Nate, you’ve been into baking and pastry since you were a kid then?
M: It’s in your blood? The power of flour?
N: Yep. Hey, can I get a shirt that says that? (Laughs) But, yes I have. When I was little, my mom would bake bread and cookies in the afternoon and she would sit me on the counter and let me watch. I remember that when I was 5 or 6 I wanted to be a fireman, but that all changed by the time I was 8. By then…
E: He either wanted to be a pastry chef or a rock n’ roller.
M: Not a tyrannosaurus?
E: HA! I think it’s always been pastry chef or rock n’ roller.
N: Yeah, they had you fill out that form in high school asking what you wanted to do…I mean, what did you guys put down?
M: I think I usually put down artist or mathematician.
N: What about mathemagician?
J: Come on system’s analyst! Come on system’s analyst!
E: I totally put fashion designer. And look at me now!
J: I actually don’t remember people asking me that question. I’m sure they did, but my fallback answer has always been writer or novelist.
M: What about you Elaine? Did Nate pass his love of food onto you, or have you always been a fan?
E: We always say that food and music is what brought us together. Neither of us had met someone else with such a passion for either of those before. But I’ve always loved food, really good food. That led me to getting into really good foods, sweets and pastries when I met Nate.
M: And you Jared?
J: My first job, and most jobs were in food. I started when I was 15, but I thought it would only be temporary. It just turned out that whenever I went into a different field I was never content. So it was originally something I just fell into, but it ended up being where I found myself the happiest. For me, it’s just as much about the food service atmosphere as it is about the product.
M: You’re actually a trained chef, right Nate? Where’d did you go to school?
N: I went to the culinary program at Joliet Junior College. I would say I learned just as much there as I would have paying for a more expensive program.
M: Did it prepare you for your career in the restaurant world, or were there things that there was just no way to be prepared for?
N: School is school. And then you get a job, where on the first day you learn everything you learned at school, plus more. There’s only so much you can learn before you start working somewhere and they kick you around for a few years. So I’d say I learned the most getting kicked around at the start.
E: Nate and I don’t discourage anyone from going to culinary school, but we DO encourage them to get a job at a restaurant. Whether it’s dishwashing, line cook or hostess; it’s good for everyone to know how a restaurant functions from the front door to the back door. Sometimes the media glamorizes the industry a tiny bit.
M: I know it’s putting you on the spot, but Nate, what’s your favorite dessert of the ones you’ve made over the years?
N: The Cracker-Jack Sundae at Blue Water Grill. I made the cracker jacks and ice cream (butter peanut & salted caramel), and then it was served with a peanut butter shell on top. There was also a small prize in a box with each order.
M: What about one that isn’t yours?
N: A couple of years ago at Avenues in the Peninsula I tried a chocolate-ginger-lime shooter. It blew my mind because I didn’t think those flavors would go well together. I guess I’m close-minded, because I was wrong.
M: What about one that never made it off your drawing board?
N: Ooooooooh. There were a lot of crazy failed ones. I was working on a blue velvet cake, but it ended up turning everything blue. Everything.
M: Elaine, same questions.
E: Too much pressure! Go to Jared!
M: Okay, Jared, same questions.
N: Yeah, I want to hear what you favorite dessert of mine is.
J: I don’t really care for Nate’s desserts.
J: But seriously, my favorites of his at Blue Water were always the specials involving fruit, his brioche especially. When I go out I usually end up getting something fruit based. I like chocolate, but I love cobblers and the like. Stuff like my mom would do.
E: Okay, I’m ready. My favorite of Nate’s is his French Macarons, the galettes and anything he makes in parfait form. When we go out I’ll always try whatever isn’t chocolate. It’s so funny, because every time we’ve gone out to eat somewhere new we always ask our server “What would you suggest?” They always, ALWAYS suggest the chocolate tart or the molten cake or some other “must have” signature chocolate dessert. I usually just pick the next item down the menu.
M: I’d ask what your favorite bread is, but we ALL know it’s my Pretzel Bread….right?
N: Haha! You know it!
M: So enough about you people. Let’s talk about what everyone really cares about, the food. What will you be offering?
E: We have a BIG focus on breakfast pastries, along with a light offering of lunch and dinner items. There will also be some soups and salads…some tartines (open faced sandwiches). We also have a Fritz Pastry custom blended coffee as well as some favorite loose teas.
M: I noticed that most of the pastries are mostly classically French. Does that come from your schooling, Nate, or is it just your favorite pastry country?
N: That’s my favorite. Whenever I’ve thought of pastry it was that. It was hardly ever American apple pie. It has always been European.
E: Nate definitely leans towards the French pastry, but I’ve seen him get pretty into panettone and springerle, too.
M: So you both know the delicious benefits of butter?
E: I’ve just recently discovered European butter. Unreal and SO good.
N: Heck yeah. It’s awesome.
M: But you’re also not ignoring the large vegan population looking for their sweets fix. Are you both vegans? Or are you vegetarian with a vegan baking twist?
E: Nate and I are both vegetarian. Jared’s neither vegan nor vegetarian. I was vegan for years and that’s when I discovered how good AND bad vegan sweets could end up being. Somehow I learned how to make a tasty chocolate chip cookie that was also vegan, so I kept trying to bake egg and dairy free. We’ll have a small vegan section with our most successful recipes.
M: Elaine, I know you do a majority of the vegan baking. Will that continue at Fritz? Or have you passed the recipes onto Nate?
E: I’ll definitely help of course, but I’ve decided to finally let go of my secrets and pass the recipes on to Nate. Not that he needs them. He’s been baking tons of tasty vegan goods for De.li.cious Café since they’ve opened.
M: You’re history is interesting. You actually started as an online/mail order bakery. Are deliveries and special orders going to continue? Do you have plans to expand further? World domination?
E: Yes, we will be offering a delivery service where we always encourage special orders. Eventually we’d like to have a place in New York, as well as one somewhere in California.
N: But right now, we’re really just focusing on this place. We really want this place to work.
E: Yeah we’re really focusing on Chicago right now. We can dream later.
M: I have a couple more questions, and I’ll let you guys get back to your baking magic. Most importantly, what’s your music selection going to be like? That always says a lot about a café.
N: I don’t know if we’re done arguing about that yet.
E: I would play the Monkees every second we were open if Nate and Jared would let me.
N: The monkees ARE geniuses.
M: You’ve really banded your friends together to get this place together before opening. Want to use this space to thank them?
E: We think it would be funnier to list everyone who hasn’t pitched in!
N: An un-thank you list.
E: Just kidding! Everyone in our lives has been beyond supportive, from our family, to our friends, to friends of friends.
M: And a couple rapid fire questions to get those out of the way. I figure these are to be taken out of context for when you ultimately get too big and the media wants to take you down. Favorite Chef?
N: Man, that’s not a quick answer! That’s like asking someone what’s your favorite song.
M: “They’ll Need a Crane” by They Might Be Giants!
E: I KNEW it would be They Might Be Giants. What about who your least favorite chef is?
J: So much hate!
E: Okay fine. Joel Dennis, the Executive Chef of Ducasse’s Adour in New York
N: I’d say Lisa Mortimer. I loved working for her at TRU. She was super cool and she really knew how to lead.
J: Paul Kahan. And I really like Avec.
M: Favorite Restaurant?
E: In Chicago? I’m a sucker for Ben Pao. Outside of Chicago? Red Bamboo in New York. And my favorite pastry shop is still Tartine in San Francisco.
N: Coalfire on Grand. Outside of Chicago the Balthazar in New York, because their pain au chocolat is soooooooo good,
M: Favorite cookbook everyone should own?
E: Eric Ripert’s On The Line or Michel Richard’s Happy in the Kitchen. Both have some great photography.
J: Bachelor’s Pride Microwave Meals!
N: Ha ha! Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisine by Frédéric Robert
M: Favorite Band?
J: I would actually have to say They Might Be Giants.
E: Descendents and Lagwagon
M: Last question, and one for each of you. Nate , who would win in a fight between GI Joe and the Justice League?
N: G.I. Joe would win because they’re real American heroes!
M: But the superheroes have superpowers! And G.I. Joe couldn’t shoot very straight.
N: Luckily, neither could C.O.B.R.A.
M: Elaine. Who would win in a fight between the cast of 90210 and the Gilmore Girls?
E: Easy. The cast of the old 90210 would win a fistfight, but the cast of Gilmore Girls would win an argument of wit.
M: Jared. Who would win in a battle between sasquatch and Bender from Futurama.
J: That’s an easy one…
M: BUT, it’s a robot sasquatch.
N: Oh snap!
J: I think between a robot sasquatch and Bender, I’d have to reference the Ultimate Robot League episode, and say it ultimately comes down to how much money is in it for Bender.
M: Nice answer! Okay, that’s all I got. Thanks for your time you guys, and good luck on the opening!
ALL: Thanks, Mike!
Fritz Pastry is located at 1408 W. Diversey Pkwy, Chicago, IL 60614. The phone number is (773) 857-2989. They will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily
You can also find Fritz Pastry on Facebook and Twitter.
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