Karen Gerod has worked as an actress and a photo shoot stylist, but four years ago she decided to redirect her creative energy towards a new adventure — opening Swim Café. Karen, who has always had a passion for cooking and baking, decided one day to finally turn her hobby into a real life career. Despite operating without a fully equipped kitchen when she first opened, Swim café had already begun catering local events and parties.
“[Three years ago] I only had a toaster oven, Panini grill and a microwave,” said Karen.
About Swim Café
Located in Chicago’s West Town Noble Square neighborhood, the name for Swim Café was inspired by the Ida Crown Natatorium, a 25-yard-long pool across the street from the shop in beautiful Eckhart Park. The café’s menu boasts a great mix of caffeinated beverages and delicious baked treats.
Inside the cozy café, the lush blue painted walls and colorful artwork makes you feel you’re right at home. The rotating collections of artwork on display are created by local Chicago artists, and all of the café’s tables and chairs are made from recycled materials.
Dive into the menu
A purist when it comes to ingredients and presentation, Karen cooks up an endless variety of mini-muffins, rich indulgent bar cookies, homemade salads, soups, and Panini sandwiches. A signature dish at the café that you can’t find on the daily menu is the homemade strata with turkey, cranberries, Swiss cheese and leeks. A strata is generally considered a brunch dish, that is traditionally made with layers of ingredients placed over a base of day old bread and fresh cheese, covered with a blended mixture of eggs and milk, and baked in an oven.
Karen’s assortments of cupcakes are also big sellers. She uses all homemade recipes and even collaborates with her employees for new ideas when creating the menu.
For sandwiches and Paninis, there are dishes that are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Even vegan cheese and bread are available at the café. Karen also supports the sustainable agriculture movement by serving organic Ineeka tea and fair trade coffee from Just Coffee.
In addition to creating an appetizing menu, Karen is focused on hospitality and connecting with the community.
“I am doing what I love to do, and that’s feeding people,” said Karen. “Many people have used Swim Café for poetry readings, podcasts and it even served as a backdrop for a small independent film.”
It’s not uncommon to find Karen behind the counter greeting customers while baking up a storm. The entrepreneur hopes one day to expand and have a separate area for kids, dining and events.
For those who need their coffee kick early, Swim Café is open at 6 a.m. every day! There is also free Wi-Fi and bottomless coffee served in a huge mug. Tuesday to Friday, Swim Café is opened until 10 p.m., and BYOB after 6 p.m.. There is also Scrabble Sundays, where winners get a free drink.
Before I headed back to the office, Karen made some extra goodies for me to bring back to the GrubHub crew to enjoy too. The mini-muffins, chocolate cupcakes, peanut butter ganache and vegan oat bar cookies were pure sugar bliss! The best thing about Swim Café: you can have all their goodies delivered to your doorstep.
Swim Café, 1357 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL