Ryan Evans, Streeterville pizza chef, has his eye on the pie

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Ryan Evans has pie-in-the-sky dreams. Well, pizza pie-in-the-sky dreams.

Evans, executive chef at Streeterville Pizzeria and Tap, in May unveiled the neighborhood eatery’s new menu complete with some ambitious new flavors he hopes will rake in awards—and maybe national attention.

Evans knows pizza.

“My grandfather and I used to make pizza when I was a kid,” he said. “My very first memory is pouring water into the mixing bowl.”

He’s long since graduated from his home kitchen and, at almost 33, he’s been making pizzas professionally for more than 17 years (he had to get a waiver to begin his kitchen work as a minor) and last year won his first award at a Las Vegas pizza competition. He placed third in the mid-America pizza classic division.

“I prepared for a couple of months,” Evans explained. “That was in 2018 and I went out to Las Vegas and met some really good people and did pretty decent. I really used that as an opportunity to meet the higher ups in the pizza community.”

One of those people was Leo Spizzirri, a master pizza instructor at The Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Lisle, is one of two such pizza schools in the United States affiliated with the oldest pizza schools in Italy. Evans, of course, signed up for a course.

“It’s five days, 40 hours and it teaches fundamental dough chemistry, the physicality of working in a pizzeria and a whole bunch of hands-on chemistry,” he said.

Following the course, Evans worked with Spizzirri as an assistant for six months, where he dove into dough chemistry and worked out what he believes is the best blend of dough for Streeterville Pizzeria. His dough is part fermented whole wheat dough, sourdough and high-gluten King Arthur dough for a crust that’s slightly sour and sweet and it takes five days to make.

Besides the dough, Evans has spent his time at Streeterville Pizzeria tinkering away, redeveloping the pizza menu, with emphasis on a Detroit-style pie that is simple and delicious. He tries to follow the Italian rule for pizzas—the toppings can, at most, include five ingredients, two of which are sauce and cheese.

“So Detroit-style pizza is a rectangle or square pizza,” he said. “It’s an inch of fluffy focaccia bread with a golden crown of cheese baked around the side. It’s delicious and it’s pretty unique in Chicago.”

He acknowledges Chicago is a hard city for pizza chefs. With a wealth of renowned pizza spots, it can be hard to stand out. But Evans is confident he’s got what it takes to win in Chicago and, he hopes, in Italy.

“Chicago is a very tough city, and we don’t have a huge foot print here,” he said. “We can’t do quantity so quality will have to be our mark.”

New Montessori School open in Streeterville

By Jesse Wright|May 1, 2019

Guidepost Montessori, 226 E. Illinois St., opened its doors in April. The new school has programs for kids from 12 months to 6 years old.

Head of School Sarah Silverman said enrollment has been going well with 49 kids signed up so far. Silverman explained that the Guidepost Montessori schools encourage kids to learn through play, so the rooms are filled with practical toys like sinks and dishes, where the kids develop motor skills and they also learn how the household works.

“It’s high choice and it’s high structure,” Silverman said.

Silverman said every class has two teachers in it, and there is also a Spanish immersion program.

At an open house for parents in early April, Jezail Jackson, a mother of two said her husband was educated at Montessori schools and wants to get their children enrolled.

“I believe the value is that  they provide a space for kids to be taught from the very start,” she said. “And in Montessori, they teach in a way that allows the kids to lead themselves. It’s really amazing.”

Max Chen blows on a pinwheel with a balloon animal at the Guidepost Montessori open house in April. Photo by Jesse Wright

New naturopathic practice offers alternatives for those with chronic disease

By Jesse Wright for Haven Chicago

People with chronic disease may have learned to live in discomfort, but two new naturopathic doctors practicing in Streeterville say they can help.

Doctors Kolby Ourada and Alex Orton recently opened Haven Chicago at 233 E. Erie where they serve patients from across the city.

These unique services are the first of their kind in Chicago, but based on the patients they have seen, the two believe there is a need for their services. Ourada said most of their patients have been trying to get better for years.

“The majority of our patients have some kind of chronic disease, like gastrointestinal problems or joint pain or auto immune conditions or some other chronic illness,” he said. “We’re finding the majority of the patients we’ve seen, they’ve tried the traditional route. Our role is to empower the patient to establish the conditions for health that will allow them to heal.”

For someone suffering with a chronic illness, Ourada recommends a 90-day-intensive program that includes a thorough assessment of nutritional deficiencies, organ dysfunction, and lifestyle behaviors. Orton points out however, the treatment isn’t a one-time thing. It is most assuredly not just a pills for symptoms, and it requires work from the patient.

“This is a transformation health program so people can experience significant healing in three months, but the purpose is to empower the person to continue to heal outside the office,” Orton said. “True holistic medicine should be patient centered. They’re doing a lot of work on their own, changing the way they eat and changing the way they live. It’s different than just taking pills and not changing anything in your life. We teach people how to implement changes and support them so they can maintain their health for years to come.”

Kolby said many health issues are due to years of neglect or ignorance.

“After a certain time, if you’re not living within the laws of health then the physiological function of your body starts to break down,” he explained.

Orton said they also offer a full range of services and treatments for anyone interested in getting healthy, including nutritional consultations for anyone interested in wellness.

“Naturopathic medicine is very different from conventional medicine where there are silos of specialties,” Orton said. “When you’re approaching the body holistically, you’re getting a more individualized approach that focuses on the individual person, not their disease. Many people are just managing their condition with drugs, plateauing, maybe even getting worse. … We provide the tools and the empowerment so people can feel better and work towards getting off their medications.”

To find out more about Haven Chicago, visit their website, havenholistichealth.com.

Tom Bohlen is the Streeterville doorperson of the month

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

Tom Bohlen has been a doorman at 201 E. Chestnut St. since 2007. Previously, he worked in construction, but after he was laid off, a friend of a friend suggested he apply to the building. He’s been there ever since.

Morning is madness, a scramble to get residents out the door and on their way, into cabs and off to work, Bohlen said. After that, it settles down and he accepts packages and greets visitors.

Bohlen said he’s always been a people person, and his favorite part of his job is interacting with residents.

“I enjoy my job [and] watching people go by,” he said.

His most memorable experience as a doorman has been seeing the kids in the building grow up, Bohlen said.

Aspiring doorpeople should be attentive and polite, he said. Anyone who wants to work in the field must be a people person, ready to learn the ways and the routines of residents.

“Keep your eyes and ears open. Get to know people, what their habits are,” he said.

Bohlen said when he’s not working, he likes to golf and he enjoys spending time with his rescue dog, a red nose pitbull named Bear, whom he calls “Cookie.”

Bohlen was nominated for Streeterville Doorperson of the Month by Gayle Hargrove, a resident and board secretary of the building. She praised Bohlen’s dedication to his job and the building.

“In all my years as a resident, I have not known him to ‘call in’ an absence unexpectedly—including during the recent polar vortex when his train broke down on his way to work,” she wrote in an email. “Tom has an uncanny way of learning our (resident’s) habits…and always has a kind word to offer.”
To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Waiting for a heart in Streeterville

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Jessica Venditto is waiting for a heart.

The 24-year-old woman was born with a heart condition known as pulmonary atresia, meaning her right ventricle didn’t develop properly. As a result, one of the most important organs in her body can’t do its job.

For Venditto, the road to a healthy life has led her to Streeterville, where she has found hope, friendship and one of the best medical teams in the world. Even though the wait for a new heart may take years, she is optimistic.

The heart condition has led to five surgeries and a pacemaker. Each surgery has been met with complications, making each operation more risky than the last. Venditto has the use of one lung after the other collapsed, and she’s developed end-stage liver cirrhosis, an occasional risk for patients who have childhood heart disease.

This isn’t the first time she has beaten the odds.

In 2010, the Long Island-based family got bad news. Debbie, Venditto’s mother, said her daughter needed a Fontan procedure, a tricky type of heart surgery. Without the surgery, her daughter would die, but Debbie said doctors in New York worried performing surgery in a patient so weak might prove fatal anyway.

“They couldn’t do it,” Debbie said.

The Venditto family began looking for a doctor who could work on their daughter. They found Dr. Cal Backer at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“He’s the one who saved her life,” Debbie said.

Dr. Backer said the Fontan procedure is complicated, but at Lurie, the staff is used to complicated.

“We’ve done more than anyone else in the world,” Backer said of the procedure.

The 2010 surgery was a success. Things were looking up.

Until Venditto took a turn.

In 2016, Venditto developed liver cirrhosis and today, at stage four, doctors say she desperately needs a new heart to heal the liver. But again, no one in New York City would work on Venditto.

“We reached out to many hospitals,” Debbie said. “Everyone said it was too risky, she wouldn’t make it. The hospitals in New York wouldn’t do it. But Dr. Backer feels he can put a new heart in there and it will rejuvenate the liver. … We know it’s a risky procedure, but it’s our only option.”

Dr. Backer said this is a common story at Lurie Children’s Hospital, which offers one of the top pediatric heart transplant programs in the country.

“The program has been active for 30 years,” he said. “Last year we were number two in the country for pediatric heart transplants. We get some of these most complex cases that have been turned down elsewhere, and we have patients from the other side of the world in our unit right now waiting for transplants.”

Waiting for a new heart means moving to a new home, because when the heart comes in, the patient must go into surgery immediately. Debbie and her daughter left the family in Long Island and moved to Streeterville in August 2018.

In Long Island, the family had a home. But in Streeterville, the Vendittos didn’t know anyone and they didn’t know how they could afford an apartment that would accommodate mother, daughter and Debbie’s parents in addition to a mortgage back in Long Island.

They found Gail Spreen, a realtor with Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty.

“I knew relocating here would be a financial burden, but on top of it all we had to get an apartment, and that’s why God brought us Gail Spreen,” Debbie said.

Spreen heard the Vendittos’ story and was determined to help them find an apartment that was the right fit.

“When I met the Vendittos, I understood what they were needing and looking for in their housing needs. I knew it would be a unique find,” Spreen said. “They were so incredibly honest, wonderful people and Jessica’s story [was] so heart-warming, that I had to see what I could do to help them.”

Spreen was looking for a condo owner who would appreciate their situation, and she found just the couple, the Standfords.

“They were also from New York,” she said. “After everyone met and worked out the details, we got the Vendittos moved in and now part of the fabric of Streeterville.”

“A win-win for all,” Spreen said. “Besides, how could you say no to smiley Jessica and her caring mother, father and wonderful grandparents?”

With that, the Vendittos moved into the 474 North Lakeshore Building.

“It’s beautiful,” Jessica Venditto said. “I love seeing the Ferris wheel everyday.”

“We love Streeterville,” echoed Debbie. “It’s so amazing. … If my husband’s job could relocate, I would move here. Everyone is so much nicer. I don’t want to slight New York, but come on, everyone is so much nicer. It’s our home away from home all because of Gail Spreen.”

The task now is finding a heart.

Originally, Venditto was categorized as 1A, meaning she was at the top of the list for heart donations. Debbie said they might have waited only six months for a heart. But after a rule change because of her age, she was moved to the fourth category, the category for adults.

“It’s going to take years to get a heart,” Debbie said.

Dr. Backer said he hopes the Vendittos’ situation inspires people to become organ donors.

“I think organ donation is extremely important,” he said. “Organ donation takes place during very sad circumstances, but often there could be something good that comes out of it for the family who donates their loved one’s organs.”

In the meantime, the Vendittos are asking people to contribute to a GoFundMe account. Over the past two years, the family has depended on donations.

“We used all the money for medication that wasn’t covered by insurance,” Debbie said.

To contribute, visit gofundme.com/Jessicavenditto.

Jessica Venditto, bottom right, sits with her family on a beach vacation. Photo courtesy Debbie Venditto.

A Starbucks roastery could could offer a better brew of retail on Mag Mile


By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

On Michigan Avenue, the old cliché is true: the only constant is change.

As online stores continue to hurt brick and mortar retailers, churn on Mag Mile is near constant, with Tommy Bahama and Forever 21 being only the most recent announced closings.

In December, the Chicago Architecture Center hosted an evening conversation with a panel of Chicago retail experts to discuss the continuing promise of the Magnificent Mile and how, even in a virtual world, creativity could save the day—and the bottom line—of brick and mortar stores.

Much of the conversation centered on Starbucks’ plan to this year transform the old four-story Crate and Barrel store into a massive roastery, a high-end coffee space that is poised to be a café with major cache. It’s a gamble designers hope will pay off with a new type of store that’s as much an experience as it is a selling space.

“Things change, nothing is permanent, and if something is genuinely out of place on this street it will get replaced,” explained David Stone, a landlord and tenant representative in the downtown area.

Stone said the whole of the street reflects changing trends—and that’s a good thing, as it keeps the area relevant and vital. One trend, Stone said, is windows. Over the last few decades, more retailers have transformed building facades with windows, giving the shopping district a more open, airy feel.

One building that typifies this is the Crate and Barrel outlet.

After 27 years, the retailer shuttered its Michigan Avenue flagship store in January 2018. Still, whatever retail trends ended a home décor store haven’t touched the aesthetic appeal of the store’s face—a massive, bright and open façade featuring more windows than brick and mortar.

Jay Longo, principal designer at the firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, said the new roastery on Michigan Avenue will be as daring as a four-story, glass-paneled home décor store was in 1990. He expects it will keep the area relevant to a new generation of shoppers who are as prone to shop online as they are in any brick and mortar space.

Longo pointed out that the Crate and Barrel store’s design on Michigan Avenue was unique in 1990, and that is still an asset.

“It set a lot of trends that other buildings on Michigan Avenue have followed,” he said.  

He pointed out it’s not a virtual space; it is a space for people, and that means it’s a space for experiences. Longo said a roastery is a manufacturing facility as much as a café, and the combination is an experience shoppers can’t get anywhere else.

“The idea that brick and mortar is more of an experience than simply retail is definitely what the roastery is all about,” he said.

“Retailers are trying to build brand loyalty and that’s hard to do in cyberspace,” Stone said. “That’s the biggest attraction to brick and mortar.”

Program moderator Cheryl Durst, executive vice-president and CEO of the International Interior Design Association, put it in simple terms. No matter the age and no matter the trends, humans want to be wowed.

“Human beings need to be captivated,” she said.

Young Professionals Streeterville mixes services with mingling

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

This November saw the start of something in Streeterville when the first meeting of Young Professionals Streeterville kicked off.

The group is in part the brainchild of Mario Hollemans, an attorney, who was installed as president of the group, though he is far from the only young professional eager to kick off a networking group in Streeterville for the under-40 set.

Vice President Casey Doherty said he’s lived in the area since graduating from college in 2017. These days he is in law school and hopes the organization will give young people an opportunity to socialize and volunteer in the neighborhood.

“There is a strong young demographic in the neighborhood that wants to give back. We wanted to showcase the talents of young people and we wanted to create a vibrant community of young professionals in the neighborhood.”

Doherty said that while the group is a younger demographic, it is professionally diverse. Another member, Dr. Valerie Mayuga, is a physician who is also in charge of the group’s philanthropic efforts, and Doherty said it’s just nice to know people who share common interests and hobbies.

“It’s nice to have strong community connections,” he said.

Hollemans said he did little to plan the group; the whole organization sprung more or less fully formed by the membership who wanted to formalize something. That said, the group will hold monthly mixers to attract more members and to network—but also to do more for the neighborhood.

“There are a lot of young professionals in the neighborhood looking to give back,” said Doherty. “I think young people have always wanted to get involved and give back to their communities, and recent times have shown how important that really is.”

Anyone looking to get involved with the group can email Hollemans at ypstreeterville@gmail.com or check out their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/YPStreeterville.

Get your gifts close to home: Shop Streeterville

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Streeterville hosts the Mag Mile and a slew of name-brand national retailers in addition to some local hidden gems. Why not shop at both? Here is a list of some of the must-haves in Streeterville.

 

Kriser’s Natural Pet

Kriser’s Natural Pet store, 356 E. Ohio St., is a national brand that started right here in Chicago. Be sure to support this success story for all your pet presents.

This year’s hot ticket items include HuggleHounds holiday pet toys retailing for around $15. If you’re a more practical pet parent who want to keep your dog warm, try a coat from Canada Pooch. Prices vary depending on size and style. Of course, you’ll want a dog coat with some matching boots. This season Pawz rubber boots are the way to go, with most boots costing around $15.

Kriser’s Natural Pet store is open from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. most days. For more information, call 312-951-1331.

 

Sephora

For the finicky and fabulous person on your list, check out Sephora, a high-end beauty store with a variety of makeup and skin products. This year, the store offers two new products that are flying off shelves.

First, customers are going crazy over the Charlotte Tilbury Stars in Your Eyes Palette. This is a limited-edition eye shadow palette retailing for around $75.

The next big thing this season is the Pat McGrath Labs’ Mothership V Eye Palette. Pat McGrath Labs made news this year when its value soared north of $1 billion, and it’s easy to see why with this flashy, tasteful offering, retailing at $125. There are two Sephora locations in Streeterville, 605 N. Michigan Ave. and Water Tower Place at 845 N. Michigan. The 605 N. Michigan Ave. location will not have special hours for Black Friday, but it will offer specialty miniature sets for sale for a limited time that day. The store is open from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information, call 312-649-9343.

 

The Cubs Team Store

The Cubs Team Store, 668. N. Michigan Ave., is the go-to place for all your Cubs fans — for men, women, boys and girls, they have something for everyone. Jerseys are always popular, and this season the top jerseys to buy include the Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo jerseys. The jerseys retail for $135 each.

Looking for something for the little ones? The Cubs Team Store is now offering small Oyo Sports minifigures and buildables (think Legos) for $15 and TY-brand Cubs dolls for $10—perfect for stocking stuffers.

Last year, the store opened early for Black Friday, though no announcement for this year has been made as of press deadline. The store is open from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information, call 312-280-5469.

Streeterville officers vow to crack down on drug sales, seek help from residents

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

 

On Thursday, CAPS police officials told Streeterville residents they were cracking down on drug dealers and buyers in the area.

 

Officer Thomas Baker said officers are trying to make cases against drug distribution networks as opposed to people merely carrying illicit substances. However, he said, police need assistance from residents.

 

“Our biggest thing is, we obviously need help from the community, especially when you guys see everything,” Baker said.

 

The police action comes amid community concerns that drug activity is getting worse. One resident said open sales along Chicago Avenue are becoming problematic. Baker suggested forming block clubs and said police could help.

 

“We can train you, if need be, if you have a community room available,” he said. Baker explained block clubs could create email and phone trees to channel information to police regarding problematic areas. The result, Baker said, would be safer communities.

 

“We will train you to harden the target, to make it more secure for yourself and others to walk through and be safe day and night,” he said. Hardening a target means making an area safer.

 

A private security officer in the audience said drug dealers are selling to students, starting fights and criminally trespassing on the property of the Chicago Avenue McDonald’s where he works. He said despite arrests, drug sellers return after light sentencing with little consequence.

 

Baker said police would soon hold meetings with the city attorney to find ways to more effectively stop drug sellers from loitering near a methadone clinic in the area.

 

Sergeant Christopher Schenk said residents safely taking pictures of drug deals and illicit activity could help arresting officers.

 

“I don’t want you to put yourself in harm’s way,” Shenk said. “I have to say that. But if they have photos or anything they can take, or information that could help us out, that would be great.”

 

He said there have been photos that have helped investigations.

 

An audience member asked if students buying the drugs were being arrested. Without buyers, she pointed out, drug dealers would not be on the street.

 

Schenk said officers would arrest anyone who violated the law.

 

“Whoever breaks the law, and if there is a victim who can sign complaints or if there is an ordinance we can sign, we are more than happy to (make an arrest). Justice is blind,” Schenk said. “I don’t care if you are Caucasian, African American, Asian — justice is blind.”

 

The officers added that anyone who has crime tips or would like more information can contact law enforcement for non-emergency situations at 312-742-5778 or CAPS.018district@chicagopolice.org.

 

The next CAPS meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 4 at 115 W. Chicago Ave.

 

Sgt. Christopher Schenk addresses the Streeterville CAPS meeting Sept. 6.

Streeterville residents say neighborhood is convenient and community-oriented

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

Published September 5, 2018

Bordered by Rush Street to the west, Oak Street to the north, the Chicago River to the south and Lake Michigan to the east, Streeterville is a bustling community encompassing one of the city’s most popular stretches of road—the Magnificent Mile.

In the 1800s, before the area was developed, there was no Michigan Avenue, there were no high-rises and no restaurants. There was, however, a man named Captain George Wellington “Cap” Streeter.

According to Chicagology.com, Streeter had dreams of running a water passenger service, but one of his boats ended up wrecked on a sandbar east of Michigan Avenue. Streeter and his wife Maria used the ship as a houseboat.

Over time, Streeter convinced developers to dump debris along his sandbar and that fill gave birth to Streeterville.

Today, residents of Streeterville laud the neighborhood’s convenience as well as its community.

Gail Spreen, president and owner of Streeterville Properties Group, referred to herself as “Streeterville’s biggest fan.”

The five-time president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR), has lived in the neighborhood for 22 years. She is also on the Streeterville Chamber of Commerce board, was on the board of the Magnificent Mile Association and is vice chair of the Lights Festival parade.

Spreen said she loves Streeterville’s proximity to the lake and feels visitors to the neighborhood bring a “really positive energy.”

New Eastside, she said, is quieter and has fewer retail options, and River North has an energetic nightlife. But for her, Streeterville is just perfect.

“People see each other, they recognize each other, there’s community events that go on that really make it feel like you live in a neighborhood,” Spreen said. “It’s neat
because you would never think that you could create this community feeling in
the downtown urban environment. And you really can.”

Phyllis Mitzen, President of Skyline Village Chicago, a membership organization for older adults, agreed.

“We lived in Evanston, and I loved Evanston … but when I walk down the street here, I almost invariably see somebody I know and we stop and chat,” she said.

Mitzen has lived in Streeterville for 20 years and said the convenience and proximity to museums and good transportation make it a wonderful place for older adults and “an extraordinary community for intergenerational living.”

Donna Dugo, membership director at The Magnificent Mile Association and resident of Streeterville for more than 20 years, said she likes the community.

“I love the fact that I’m steps away from Navy Pier, the lakefront and now the newly developed Riverwalk. I mean, I can be at all of these places in a 5-to-10 minute walk,” Dugo said.

Streeterville is more than just the people. Pets are a powerful connecting force.

Amy Cherner, marketing and leasing coordinator for North Water Apartments, said she and her fiancé walk their dog around the neighborhood each night.

“We’ve gotten to the point where a lot of the faces are familiar, which is definitely kind of cool to have that in the middle of the city, and then really recognize your neighbors,” she said.

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