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Pop-Up Turned Cafe, Hold the Ego: A Conversation with Christine Forster of Smack Dab

What began as a small pop-up shop in a farmer’s market almost three years ago has grown into a business with a brick-and-mortar café and a pop-up location that’s prideful of its roots. Christine Forster and Axel Erk co-founded Smack Dab, a local café in Rogers Park that makes their food in house, often with locally sourced ingredients.

Scapi Radio sat down with Christine Forster to talk about food inclusivity and accessibility, balancing aesthetic and taste and living in an Instagram food culture.

“At the end of the day, if the recipe isn’t good, it doesn’t matter. That’s been a part of the challenge. So many places don’t have a good recipe for a vegan thing, or a gluten-free thing… You have to start with good, quality ingredients,” said Forster.

Genuineness is at the core of Smack Dab’s mission to offer their community “real food and amazing service from the heart.” The café is unafraid to change recipes, and they welcome feedback to improve customers’ experiences there.

“Take your ego out of it to be like, ‘This is for the customers.’ When we first started the pop-up, the menu looked nothing like it does now… I think that’s one of the things people think you can’t change,” Forster explained. “No you can’t change your name, or your location every single day, but it’s important to be really flexible. It’s not about you if someone doesn’t like your food, it’s maybe not what your customer wants.”

With the fetishizing of vegan and gluten-free diets on Instagram, it can be tough to find food that both fits dietary restrictions and is savory in real life. Axel, who is the baker at the café, and Forster master this by reimagining fried goods, like donuts, in a healthy way, and keeping their image simple online.

“We’re about simple plating. You pare down aesthetics; it’s about reducing things to the elements that are important. You can have something that’s really simple and really beautiful. You don’t have to choose,” Forster said.

While the café has a clear aesthetic for their brand, Forster and Erk are still grappling with how they can make their business completely dairy free.

“I love the challenge of finding good recipes and making them taste in a way that people are like, ‘Damn, this donut is vegan, shit,’” Forster explained. “It forces them to think about something in a different way and let go of limiting beliefs.”

Listen to the full episode and learn more about Smack Dab here.

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