Follow your sweet tooth to The Growling Rabbit in Rogers Park
By Lindsay Maher
Godzilla bunnies are wreaking havoc on Lunt and Sheridan.
The Growling Rabbit café, which opened in Rogers Park in 2011, isn’t shy about its namesake. Rabbits have been PhotoShopped into posters that hang around the room, depicted doing far more devious things than the average bunny can accomplish. Things like, for instance, sucking blood.
The name for the cafe was inspired by two of owner Laura Soncrant’s family rabbits.
Sweet Attila the Honey Bunny lend their names to Sweet Attila’s bakery, the café’s predecessor. Deputy Kallie then provided inspiration when they opened the Rabbit.
Deputy Kallie apparently really growls when she eats (slightly frightening), hence the name.
Soncrant’s business was started in honor of the people (and pets) she cares about most − “Since one sister bunny had a bakery, I figured the other sister bunny needed a café,” she said.
In a small café that sits slightly below street level, natural light streams through the wall-to-wall windows onto lime green walls and a display case filled with freshly baked cookies and carrot cake.
With her dark red curls pulled back with an olive green bandana, Soncrant, 38, sat among her customers at the counter the first time I visited the Rabbit.
The second time, she scurried behind the counter ringing up customers, hair still pulled back, this time with the help of a well-worn black baseball cap.
“Everything that happens at The Rabbit I have to be able and willing to do,” said Soncrant when she finally sat down on a busy Sunday afternoon, ”I am always quick to tell my staff I will never ask them to do anything that I myself would not do.”
Soncrant started the Rabbit’s predecessor, Sweet Attila’s bakeshop, in honor of her father. “I needed to do something for me,” she said of the baked goods she began selling in local farmers markets (Evanston and Rogers Park) in 2010.
Her father’s early passing was a signal to make a change in her career path.
“He left this world feeling as if he could’ve done so much more,” she said of her dad.
Soncrant decided she didn’t want to feel the same.
As she tried to decide just what that change would be, her solution came from her father as well.
“He loved cookies, so I started making cookies,” she said.
When the demand for her sweet treats began to grow, she moved from a limited commercial kitchen spot to their current Rogers Park location. With more space at her disposal, an expanded menu was created and The Growling Rabbit was born.
Soncrant’s dedication to her customers and baking craft make it seem like running her own café was a lifelong ambition.
“No, I have never been interested in food,” she said with a laugh. “I am a degreed landscape architect with a master’s in arts management.”
Soncrant went back to school after years of landscaping and now uses that degree at the Rabbit everyday running her business and interacting with her community.
Soncrant is officially an Evanston resident, but since opening her café, she has discovered that the Rogers Park community she serves inspires her everyday.
“I have dozens of customers who come in and order the same exact thing every time and we start their order before they even hit the counter. To know someone that well is really special,” she said.
Her more regular customers have become comfortable enough to consider Soncrant everything from good friend to pseudo-marriage counselor.
“I consider us the daytime bar, in fact,” she said. “The things I know about people is crazy because they feel comfortable sharing. I appreciate having that responsibility.”
Even in the midst of our interview, Soncrant doles out some friendly advice. She pointed out a couple walking past and explained, “I gave them yogurt for their sick dog.” He was apparently at home with an upset stomach.
Barb and Sheila, 75, come to the Rabbit almost every day. Both dressed in simple black sweaters with short silvery hair, they explained what brings them in so often.
“It’s like Cheers without the booze,” Barb said laughing.
After the space was empty for more than a year, the pair were grateful for a place to meet with friends and get a coffee. Both Barb and Sheila have lived in Rogers Park their whole lives, and are now neighbors in a building at the end of Lunt.
The women appreciate that Soncrant is engaged with the Rogers Park community.
“She has started letting us hold our book club here, there’s just not enough room in my apartment!” Sheila said.
Aside from knowing her customers well, Soncrant also works to help make the neighborhood a safe place to be.
“I’ve learned a lot about gangs and heroin dealing,” she said straight-faced.
The Growling Rabbit serves the Rogers Park community every day of the week except Mondays, and on most of those days you can find Soncrant somewhere in the café.
The explanation of how The Growling Rabbit got its name is sweet and simple.
“Dad said to get a rabbit… and that’s how we got our rabbits.”
Now she has an entire community of people to care for, rabbits and all.
- written by Lindsay Maher on June 9th, 2014
- posted in Uncategorized