Wanting to further the careers of other artists he knew, Jake Nickell set up a competition-based T-shirt-design company in his small apartment to give those artists a chance to make their art and get paid while doing it. Today, the small design startup has expanded into Threadless, a virtual boutique showcasing artsy apparel and accessories from designers all over the globe. Each week, guest artists and illustrators submit designs depicting pop-culture references, animals, folk art, and vibrant abstract works, leaving it up to the online community to vote on which entries will populate the shop’s menagerie of merch ranging from T-shirts and hoodies to bags, laptop cases, and umbrellas.
In addition to printing their work, Threadless honours artists with awards for designers in various categories, as well as a Made By program highlighting artists who've developed a following in the community or discovered the whereabouts of Van Gogh's middle-school diaries. Store staffers also award scholarships to hardworking designers and present Design Challenges to focus submitting artists on a central theme or aesthetic style. At Threadless Atrium, they collaborate with charities and other outside organizations to gather eclectic art submissions that currently benefit the American Cancer Society and Disney Villains.
Chef John des Rosiers wants visitors to his restaurant-shop Wisma—which means home in Indonesian—to enjoy eating meals in their own homes as much as they do in a restaurant. Using organic and sustainable ingredients, many sourced from local producers such as Q7 Ranch and Anson Mills, he and his staff assemble and cook each dish before sealing it in a recyclable container for customers. They draw inspiration from the culinary styles of Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and craft every dish from scratch. On a normal day in their kitchen, the chefs may top handmade pizzas with housemade sausage and pesto, cook vegetarian incan quinoa and madras curry, and sear beef barbacoa for fajitas.
Desserts at Wisma are also a focal point, not an afterthought. Tres leches and double-chocolate cakes cleanse the palate after main dishes, as do six sorbet and ice-cream flavors such as lemon-basil sorbet and mint-strawberry ice cream. The staff also stocks small-batch wines and seasonally changing craft beers by the bottle, which customers can taste before they take home to plant and grow more bottles of wine or beer. Though many see it only briefly, the shop is filled with eclectic decor such as exposed brick offset by a yellow bike hung on one wall, cow-print and plaid chairs, and floral lampshades.
With four locations speckled across Chicagoland, The Goddess and Grocer pairs the menu of a gourmet deli with the packed shelves of a specialty grocery store. Muffins, scones, and croissants are baked in-house, wafting the scents of melting butter and sugar over a sandwich counter reminiscent of a giant artist’s palette. There, custom sandwiches take shape from 11 breads and wraps, 7 deli meats, 9 cheeses, 12 vegetables, and an assortment of condiments that covers everything from cranberry-tinged mayonnaise to horseradish sauce. A few fixed staples are on hand to simplify decisions, however, including an egg-salad sandwich that Chicago magazine placed on its list of the 50 Best Sandwiches in Chicago, praising it as "a testament to the sheer power of simplicity."
The Goddess and Grocer also assembles bag lunches as well as picnic hampers for patrons looking to enjoy a bite by the lake or to bait a Yogi Bear. To round out these meals, the staff can include high-end, specialty items from the grocery section, including handmade chocolates, artisanal cheeses, mustards and dressings, and wine and beer. Alternatively, they can cater gourmet breakfast, lunch, or dinner for large gatherings and celebrations.
Founder Amanda Scotese, an avid traveler and freelance writer for Rick Steves's renowned travel guides, delegates sure-footed guides to lead sightseers to iconic landmarks and down the back alleys and lesser-known nooks of the Windy City. Tours probe the ins and outs of the Chicago's neighborhoods, such as the Loop, where they fill eyes with the sights of world-renowned architecture and minds with the secrets of the Pedway, an underground walkway that connects buildings throughout the business district with the Ninja Turtles' lair. The Historic Chicago Bar Tour, born of Chicago Detours' desire to spread knowledge of the city's entertainment history, takes tour-goers to three historic bars in an exploration of how the city had fun. Private group Jazz, Blues & Beyond tours explore historic neighborhoods on the North and South sides, and include diversions such as harmonica lessons from a bona fide blues blower. Chicago Detours also offers private-group tours for birthdays, family reunions, and corporate team-building exercises. Private group tour options also include a Chicago Meat History Tour and the Architecture of Money and Power.
Danny Gabriner's first business model was a little odd: he wanted to bake 1,000 loaves of bread, and give them all away. It turned out to be a winning proposition, though, charming friends, neighbors, and strangers into supporting his newly proposed bakery, Sour Flour. In addition to crafting artisanal breads, Danny saw Sour Flour's mission incorporating education, whether it came through teaching people to appreciate good bread with a free loaf or instructing them in the process of baking some of their very own.
While he still doesn't operate out of a formal brick and mortar location, Danny shares the fruits of his labor in breadbaskets across the city. He sticks to his philanthropic roots, too, spearheading Bagel Monday at La Victoria Bakery, in which bakers gift fresh, free bagels to all comers. Classes at La Victoria are taught by Sour Flour Breaducator Cat Shimizu, who teaches students how to care for their wild yeast starter, bake rustic loaves, and figure out when a crust is ready to molt.
Nearly every experience in Laurel Stradford’s life led to the moment she opened her own store in 1999. As a child, she hung a map of the world on her bedroom wall and listened to the stories of Aladdin and One Thousand and One Nights, which inspired a lifelong interest in travel. She later worked as the executive director for special programs for Africa and Europe at Revlon International, which afforded her the opportunity to see the world and taught her how to speak to elephants in multiple languages. After penning a book about her overseas adventures titled What The Traveler Saw, Stradford opened a store with the same name. There she stocks internationally sourced candies, luggage, home decor, and clothing from countries including Morocco, India, Ghana, and Turkey. In many cases, proceeds from the items benefit their country of origin—bowls made in Indonesia aid in the tsunami-recovery effort, and a Haitian oil-drum sculpture benefits victims of the 2010 earthquake.