In 1988, Auntie Anne's founders Anne and Jonas Beiler purchased a Pennsylvania farmers'-market stand, where they experimented with dough until they created a pretzel that seemed to strike the perfect chord with their customers. Today, at their more than 1,350 locations worldwide, the pretzel makers still hand roll the original recipe but have added to the menu with inventive options such as the eight signature dipping sauces. The team constantly explores new uses for the pretzel dough, such as wrapping it around hot dogs and slicing it into bite-size nuggets. To transform the snack into a meal, they accompany it with specialty drinks, including frozen-lemonade desserts.
When not twisting dough, Auntie Anne's team partners with the national charitable organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood cancer. Auntie Anne's also reaches out to the community through fundraising opportunities.
For more than 25 years, the family of arctic artisans at Zarlengo's Italian Ice has infused real fruit and carefully selected ingredients into more than 50 varieties of temperature-defying delicacies, each carefully forged on-site and collectively voted Best Ice Cream in the Chicago Area by Chicago Sun-Times readers. Guests may commission miniature igloos in seasonal flavors such as pumpkin gelato or apple-cinnamon Italian ice (medium $3.25), or they can unite flavors such as mango, chocolate, and strawberry Italian ice with soft serve ice cream in an arctic cooler (medium $4.29). Natural ingredients such as fresh tangerines and bananas come together in real fruit slushes (medium $4.29) to enjoy a refreshing reprieve from their day jobs as still-life models, and hand-dipped novelties such as the Zar bar accommodate busy patrons with 10 varieties of chocolate-ensconced portability ($1.89).
Though its Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine reflects some of China's oldest culinary traditions, Dragon Inn's Chicago Heights location also nurtures an evolving menu that includes sushi. Specialties include the 9-ounce hong kong porterhouse steak and the crispy duck. Accompanying housemade sauces are customized to guests' tastes, adding flavor to entrees and egg rolls that are folded by hand and filled with pork, shrimp, and vegetables.
From behind a frozen granite slab, the staff of Cold Stone Creamery uses twin spatulas to blend custom servings of ice cream and creative mix-ins to fit customers? exact specifications. Founded by Donald and Susan Sutherland in 1988, Cold Stone began under the hot Arizona sun, eventually spreading its frosty fingers to encompass more than 1,400 locations worldwide. Despite the size of the company, each location?s staff keeps up the handcrafted quality, making ice cream onsite every day and using those signature spatulas to create delicious pointillist art against the freezer wall.
When single mom Bobbie Stokes lost her job in 1990, she looked to her family for inspiration. Her mother was a skilled baker, who taught Bobbie everything she knew, and so Bobbie took years' worth of family recipes, gathered the support of a few friends, and decided to go into business for herself. The sweet endeavor began in Bobbi's own basement as she baked cakes for friends and family members. But soon word got out and businesses came calling, eager for a slice of one of Bobbi's signature desserts––especially her famous, multi-tiered caramel cake. The demand grew so much that the working mother and grandmother––Angelica's is named for her granddaughter––eventually needed not one, but two locations in order to meet it. Today, Bobbi's cakes can be found on the menus of soul food restaurants throughout Chicago, as well as in the dessert cases of many supermarkets. 50 employees stay busy baking desserts around the clock, filling bundt pans with homemade batter, and drizzling the resulting pound cakes with homemade lemon icing, or portioning out individual servings of sweet potato pie or crumbly peach cobbler. Despite the hectic schedule, the bakery accepts orders for custom wedding cakes and also creates themed cakes for birthdays, graduations, and extra-special after school snacks.
To Yes Asia Cafe owners Nancy and Tiger Huynh, their business in America is the end of a long journey that began with their families' attempts to escape to the US from Vietnam. Despite multiple tries each year, Nancy's family was always turned back. "There were scary moments," she writes on the café's website, "and I'm glad it's over." Tiger's family was luckier, drifting into a safe harbor after seven days in a tiny boat.
Today at Yes Asia Cafe, both Huynhs celebrate the cuisine of their childhoods with a menu of traditional pan-Asian and Vietnamese dishes. Like a poorly calibrated compass, banh mi sandwiches fuse East and West, stuffing crusty french bread rolls with fillings such as curry chicken and cured pork. Succulent morsels of barbecue pork and grilled beef mingle with cilantro, mint, pickled veggies, and peanuts in rice and noodle bowls. And an impressive drink menu cleanses palates with jasmine teas and jackfruit smoothies.