By Dan Morgridge
Real Estate is pricey in the city, and we all work hard to pay the bills. There are plenty of people who have a couple different roommates, or even a couple different jobs. Why should businesses be any different? Some of the best shops in the city involve creative owners trying to make an extra buck through two businesses at once. And while there’s plenty of these that you’d expect (gift shops or restaurants attached to hotels and museums), we decided to highlight some of the quirky and downright inspiring examples of Chicago’s multitasking business owners.
Tommy's Guitar and Cafe
While some of these venue ideas are certainly unique, you’d be hard pressed to find a more one-of-a-kind combination than Tommy and co. have created here. While there’s Fenders, Gibsons, and an array of smaller brand finds hung on the walls for the plucking, the shop also serves up cafe drinks, smoothies, burgers, vegan fare, and whatever else they seem to be in the mood for. It’s probably a fine place for those looking for a café, and probably a fine guitar shop… but for that person who really wants to eat and buy a guitar at the same time, this is clearly as good as it gets.
While there’s now four of these bad boys slowly conquering the loop, the one that started it all is the subject of our focus. Do they have a small but tasty menu all under $5? They do! Do they offer some outdoor seating to make up for the ueber-tiny interior? Yes! But why exactly are we paying attention to the Lettuce Entertain You burger shop in this article? Simply because the whole sub-100-square-foot enterprise is located smack dab in the middle of Tru’s kitchen. As you wait in line, you can watch the chefs prepare a Michelin-starred meal – and very occasionally they might watch you. You won’t find any of their creations on the M Burger menu, but hopefully the burger will be a nice consolation.
The Boring Store/826CHI
Dave Eggers and his 826 network provide tutoring, creative writing classes, and many other educational offerings for kids. But Eggers and company know that they need a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. As such, each of the 826 centers across the country is hidden behind a store right out of a kid’s daydreams. While the Boring Store sounds like we got the shortest straw of the bunch (other cities have stores for pirates, dinosaurs, and astronauts), it’s actually one of the most clever concepts – spy gear, disguised as everyday things, in a store that looks like an everyday store. While the odd pairing of the two venues might have been on purpose, it doesn’t make their operation any less fantastic (er, we mean boring, yes… very boring).
Mr. Flower & Mr. Ping Pong
Another double-take building front, Mr. Flower and Ping Pong looks like a pretty standard florist shop upon first glance. Of course, the fact that the shop would be only twenty feet deep seems a little suspicious. Walking past the plants in the center reveals a not-so-secret field of ping pong tables. The Chicago Slam Table Tennis Club holds court here, hosting tournaments, lessons, and just friendly play for those seeking a game. And should you wish to throw roses for the winner… well heck, you’re in luck!
Zientek's Model Trains and Tavern
Last but not least, a tiny shop in Pilsen might have the quirkiest atmosphere of any shop in Chicago. A tiny shop with model trains running in the basement and cheap beers upstairs, you can’t expect much in terms of pizazz or variety in the drinks. But if you like your bars dive-y and full of knickknacks, prepare to make your corner dive look like a Bar Louie after experiencing the homey nature of Zientek’s. The hours on the site seem to have them open from 11-6PM every day save Sunday, so don’t expect a wild evening. But if you’re in the mood to browse some miniature locomotion with a nice cold one, Zientek’s is like the living room and basement of a grandpa you never had.