Chelsea and Art Jackson, the owners of Pleasant House Bakery are among a new era of restaurant and business owners in the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport. The Irish-American enclave is home to the Daley family, the Chicago White Sox, and a steadily-growing food scene that eagerly compliments the elder establishments of the area. (Chef Kevin Hickey recently gave us his recommendations to both the new and old.) While long-time restaurants and bars like Ricobene's, Lena's, and Mexico Steakhouse aren't going anywhere, a generation of new food havens are also adding a new flair; one of those establishments is Pleasant House Bakery.
Chelsea Jackson says that the decision to open up shop in Bridgeport was a no-brainer for the couple: "Bridgeport has a great energy. The residents are really supportive of neighborhood businesses, whether it's a new restaurant, art gallery, or bar. We live about a mile or two away in Pilsen, and always had intended to open our restaurant nearby because we really like these neighborhoods."
With a seasonal menu that boasts everything from English pies, English bangers, "Royal Pizza", and a Queen's knickers-full of sweet treats, Pleasant House Bakery is reinventing food that most people consider a little bland. Recently, the couple decided to take their pies mobile with the addition of a food truck.
This week via email, I shot Chelsea a few questions to learn more about the menu and concept at Pleasant House, the transition to the food truck, and the English pasty.
Can you explain to people what a Royal Pie is? A Royal Pie is our own brand name for the savory pies and pasties that we make and sell at Pleasant House Bakery. The name is a nod to their British heritage and the quality of ingredients that we use, but also a wink, since pies are typically considered a humble food. We say they're like the best pies you've ever had—only royaler!
Compared to the pasty "across the pond," are these 100% authentic, or are they Americanized? We have one pasty on our regular menu, and it is an authentic Cornish pasty—from the ingredients to the crust to the size and method of preparation. It is quite different from the pasties that one might find in places such as Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Our customers who have eaten pasties and pies in England often comment that ours are better than the ones in the U.K. Much of the production there has become commercialized, so it's become more difficult to find artisan-quality pies.
What was in the first pasty or pot pie you ever ate? And where did you eat it? I've been a fan of savory and sweet pies since I was a kid. Like many people, I recall eating the frozen pot pies when I was young. The first pasty I ate was a cheese and onion pasty that I bought at a London chippy (I was a vegetarian at the time) when I lived in England after college. It was pretty lousy. You learn pretty quickly in England to avoid the pasties sold at most chip shops.
Explain the Pleasant House Bakery and Pleasant House truck menu for anyone not familiar. And what is the most popular menu item ordered? Our menu centers on our Royal Pies, a variety of fresh sides and sauces, homemade sodas, and specialty sweets. We have different specials daily— everything from crispy fish and chips to house-made banger sausages to special pies and our Sunday carvery. On Sunday we offer a high tea service. Everything is fresh and homemade, and we grow as much of our own produce as we can on our own Pleasant Farms. Our top seller is our steak and ale pie. The truck carries our Royal Pies and sometimes other items from our regular menu, such as scotch eggs, sweets, and bangers and mash.
How did you come to the decision to buy the food truck? We certainly are grateful to have the best customers a business could ask for! The food truck has always been a part of our business plan; it just took us a little while to gather enough steam to check it off our "to do" list. The truck has allowed us to reach customers who live farther away from the bakery and have a tougher time visiting our brick-and- mortar location regularly, and to reach new customers. We also knew that because our pies and pasties travel well (they are, by original design and purpose, made to travel) that given the current food truck laws in Chicago our product wouldn't suffer from storage and transport.
Have you had any challenges? Are there any differences in the law for brick & mortar businesses that open a food truck as opposed to a food truck start-up? (That you know of). Where do we begin? Seriously, the good thing about challenges is that they are inevitable and ongoing, so the more you overcome them, the better you're able to handle the ones that follow. Two days ago the power went out on our block; we were told it wouldn't return for another 4-12 hours. Our new staff members commented on how calmly we handled the situation. That's because we've been through the drill before. Fortunately, the power went back on sooner than expected. Things are always less worrisome in hindsight.
As for the laws, the main difference was our licensed and inspected brick-and-mortar location. We didn't develop an idea for a truck and then have to go through the rigors of finding a kitchen space where we could prepare our food. In Chicago, it is currently illegal to prepare food on a truck.
With summer finally here, what kind of seasonal menu items can we look forward to seeing on the truck? We will be doing a lot of special pies featuring even more of our seasonal produce, in addition to our Pleasant Farms salads. We're making individual trifle servings with fresh fruit as well as fruit pasties. We also will be offering our homemade ginger beer, which we will be bottling in house.
Favorite restaurant in Chicago? We like Paul Virant's restaurants, especially Vie, in Western Springs, Ill. The food at Three Aces is also really good and (in our opinion) still flies under the radar. We usually work late, so we're lucky to have a few nice places like Three Aces, Nightwood, and Avec near our home that we can visit before they close.
Pleasant House Bakery Truck
The best way to find Pleasant House Bakery's food truck is to follow them on Twitter and Facebook or
to check out its website.
Twitter: @PHBakery and @RoyalPies